Original etching with touches of drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper.
A strong, sharp and clear 17th century / lifetime impression of Bartsch and Usticke’s fourth state of five of this uncommon etching, with strong contrasts throughout and showing no wear, printed after the signature and verses were added to the title margin below the image (that title margin has since been removed from this impression). Issued in the bound edition of the 1648 Jan Six play Medea.
Catalog: Bartsch 112 iv/v; Hind 235; Biorklund-Barnard 48-E; Usticke 112 iv/v
Size: 9 x 7 inches
Trimmed slightly within the platemark at the top edge, down to the platemark on both sides, otherwise in excellent condition.
Jason, who led the Argonauts when they recovered the Golden Fleece, had been helped in that undertaking by the sorceress Medea. He married her but later deserted her for Creusa. Medea took her revenge by sending Creusa a poisoned cloak and jewels as a wedding present. We see Medea in the shadows in the lower right, holding her gifts in one hand and dagger in the other. Rembrandt follows the practice of the theatre of his day, and gives the temple in which the wedding is taking place the form of an ordinary Dutch church.
This, the fourth state of the etching, was included in the printed version of Jan Six's play “Medea” of 1648. It is one of only three etching from Rembrandt's entire graphic oeuvre that was intentionally produced as a book illustration.
Scholars have pointed out that none of the dramatizations of the story of Medea before 1670 include a scene of the marriage of Jason and Creusa. In other words, the scene depicted by Rembrandt in the etching does not occur in the play it purports to illustrate. One scholar attempts to explain this by supposing that the marriage was staged as a tableau vivant between the second and third acts.
The director of the Amsterdam City Theatre who produced Jan Six's play in 1647, Jan Vos, would often intersperse tableaus between the acts of plays. We even know that this was done in the case of Medea, thanks to some handwritten notes in the proof sheets for the printed edition of his play. Among his remarks are some notes on costume as well: “Jason should have the Golden Fleece on a blue ribbon, not on the andirons, and Medea with a figure of the sun embroidered beneath her breast.” Rembrandt has followed the latter instructions.