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The couple are wearing theatrical costume rather than the conventional fashion of their day. Rembrandt and his pupils often painted people in fancy dress for decorative effect, but biblical characters were also depicted in this way. The picture may therefore be either an engagement portrait or an Old Testament scene such as the betrothal of Tobias and Sarah.

Details

  • Title: The Betrothal
  • Creator: Rembrandt (circle of)
  • Date Created: About 1640
  • tag / style: Rembrandt; couple; costume; marriage; portraiture; theatrical; biblical; betrothal; Tobias; Sarah; man; woman; hat; shadows
  • Physical Dimensions: w1217 x h908 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: Rembrandt's reputation attracted a number of students and assistants. The system of training under an artist was fairly new in Amsterdam in 1630 and offered a far less rigid apprenticeship than those regulated by the arts guilds. For Rembrandt the offering of training was a business: he charged his students tuition fees, but also made a profit out of the sale of their work after the completion of their formal training. While Rembrandt expected his assistants to contribute to the studio's output, they very rarely assisted with the master's own work. The artist A Houbraken (1660-1719) informs us that the works of Rembrandt's students resembled the master's works so closely that they caused confusion. This was not helped by the fact that Rembrandt signed his assistants' works as his own. During the first half of the 17th century clients may have been aware of the difference between works by the master ("original") and those of his assistants ("after Rembrandt"). However, such was the popularity of the style and the high level of production it must have become much more difficult to distinguish between them as time progressed.
  • Additional artwork information: 'The Betrothal' is dated around 1640-50. It is similar to Rembrandt's 'The Jewish Bride'(about 1661, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The identity of the couple in 'The Jewish Bride' remains uncertain, although it has been suggested that they could be biblical figures, either Isaac and Rebecca or Jacob and Rachel. In 'The Betrothal' the couple wear elaborate theatrical dress rather than the fashion of the time. The square neckline of the man's costume and the slashed fabric of the doublet revealing an under-garment are both details of 16th rather than 17th-century costumes. The girl's dress is highly ornate. The wearing of short sleeves over long ones was a theatrical convention, and the richness of her finery is marked. The jewelled girdle at her waist is probably attached to an embroidered pouch on her right sleeve and the necklace over her shoulders meets in a central jewel fastened to the front bodice of her dress. The couple's posture, the girl's enigmatic expression and her slightly raised left hand, seeming to deter the spectator's intrusive presence, and all enhance the high emotion and dramatisation of the occasion. It may be that the painting was commissioned for the occasion of the couple's engagement. Clearly, their poses, dress and expressions were intended to enhance their status.
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased in 1950

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