Rembrandt Painted a Masterpiece Over a Failed Self Portrait

Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust.
Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust. / Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust.

It’s refreshing to know that even one of the greatest artists of all time needed a do-over every now and then. Rembrandt (or Mr. van Rijn if you’re artsy) was a painter and etcher from the Dutch Golden Age whose name has become synonymous with beauty. As familiar as the world is with his work, it seems there's more to explore: recent advancements in technology have helped researchers at the J. Paul Getty Museum make an exciting discovery about one piece in particular, titled An Old Man in Military Costume (1630-1631).

Back in 1968, X-ray scans of the piece revealed an upside down portrait of a man hidden beneath layers of oil paint. The image quality back then wasn't good enough to positively identify the face, but a more recent study of the painting using X-radiography, NAAR imaging, and MA-XRF scanning technology has shown experts that the man may have been Rembrandt himself. The artist was known to have reused canvases if he didn’t like the way a painting was coming along, but those unfinished works were believed to have been lost forever.

The technology that provided the new clues was developed specifically for this project, but according to The Getty, it is now commercially available and can be used for various other applications.

A few years ago, a similar discovery was made when conservators used infrared technology to uncover a portrait of a man wearing a bow-tie beneath Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901), though the identity of that stylish gentleman is still unknown.

[h/t The History Blog]