Christ Preaching (“La Petite Tombe”)

Rembrandt Van Rijn
Christ Preaching (“La Petite Tombe”)
etching & drypoint
c. 1652

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn etching & drypoint print.

c. 1652

Original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper

A superb 17th century/lifetime impression of Bartsch’s only state, Usticke’s first state of three, New Hollstein’s first state of two, showing excellent contrasts throughout, printed prior to the late extensive reworking in drypoint of the background and the figures.

Catalog: Bartsch 67; Hind 256; Biorklund-Barnard 52-2; Usticke 67 i/iii; New Hollstein 298 i/ii.

6 3/16 x 8 1/8 inches

The subject of this etching is similar to that of “The Hundred Guilder Print” which Rembrandt had only finished a few years before, and the differences between the two works show the profound change which was taking place in his art, even as he was busy completing the earlier print. Instead of the complex design, he has extracted the circular group around Christ, and developed it, omitting any suggestion of diagonal counter movements. At the same time the architecture is brought further forward and gives the figures greater stability and articulation. In “The Hundred Guilder Print” Christ towers over his audience by virtue of his central position and his height, but in the later work he is cut down to human size and is only a little taller than his companions on the raised steps. But his central position in the story is even more immediately felt through the vertical line of the wall immediately behind him, and the stark horizontal of the raised step on which he stands. Moreover he is separated from the nearest spectators on his right by an area of dark shadow which leaves him the undisputed center of attention, brightly lit by the rays of light. The setting has become a clear and limited space, just sufficient to hold Christ’s audience. A sense of claustrophobia is avoided by the introduction of the gateway to the right of Christ, looking out onto the buildings down the street, with the contrast of outdoor and indoor lights giving a secret atmosphere to the huddled meeting taking place within.
Instead of the highly accomplished preacher that was Christ of “The Hundred Guilder Print,” he is shown here as a man who speaks directly and with the utmost humanity to fellow men. He is engaged entirely in conveying his message to simple people, and he does not juggle with such disparate activities as healing the sick, ‘suffering’ the little children, rebuking his apostles and preaching to the rich. The members of his audience are spellbound by what he says, and they remain silent and contemplative, each in his own attitude of deep concentration. Some carry their hands at their sides, others have their hands or arms folded, or hold a hand to their chin. The old man in the right-hand foreground rests his elbow on the step and supports his chin in his hand, and has a far-away gaze as he ponders Christ’s words. A mother with her baby in her arms sits with her solid back towards us, while her elder child lies on his front and diverts himself during the sermon by drawing with his finger in the earth. But even this action does not distract and such is the aura of concentration one feels he might be spelling out Christ’s words. Every word goes home simply and directly and his message is for each one of his listeners.
The alternate title of this etching, “La Petite Tombe,” was used by Gersaint in his, the first to have been compiled, catalogue and critical study of Rembrandt’s etchings in 1751-52. This title is a reference to Nicholaes de La Tombe, an art dealer with whom Rembrandt had business dealings as is evident from documents dating between 1650 and 1658, which mention not only Nicholaes but also Jacob and Pieter de La Tombe who were also 17th century Dutch art dealers. It is postulated that it was the de La Tombe family which commissioned this plate. In the 1679 inventory of Rembrandt’s studio by the print dealer Clement de Jonghe, the plate was referred to as Latombisch plaatjen (“La Tombe’s little plate”) further corroborating this theory.