William Robinson: Rembrandt’s “Indian Drawings” and His Later Work

In the late 1650s, when he was at the summit of his career, Rembrandt van Rijn drew a series of "creative copies" after Mughal Indian portraits. Twenty-three of these remarkable drawings are known today, and they rank among the artist’s most compelling and enigmatic works on paper.  As a European master’s response to spectacular artefacts of a foreign culture that had recently arrived from the far reaches of the Dutch maritime empire, they appeal to our historical imagination. For students of Rembrandt’s work they pose several intractable questions. When did he make them? Why do these works so conspicuously differ from other Rembrandt drawings of the same period? What purpose did they serve? Why did Rembrandt choose rare, expensive Asian paper, adapt new techniques, and employ uncharacteristic combinations of drawing media for works presumably intended for his private use? Did he copy the Indian originals to inform his art or add stature to his art collection?

In this lecture William Robinson, Maida and George Abrams Curator of Drawings, emeritus, Fogg Museum/Harvard Art Museums and Thaw Senior Fellow, addresses these questions, examining Rembrandt’s drawings after Mughal portraits in the context of his later work and practice as a draftsman.

Sponsored by the Morgan Drawing Institute, the annual Thaw Lecture aims to address critical topics in the study of drawings.