Emerging from private holdings for the first time in nearly two centuries, a rediscovered pair of Rembrandt portraits is now on a long-term loan for public display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. At nearly eight inches tall each, the portraits of Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and his wife Jaapgen Caerlsdr, whose son married the artist’s cousin, are said to be the smallest formal paintings (excluding studies) the Old Master ever created.

Created in 1635, the ovular paintings on panel remained in the family for over a hundred years until they were auctioned by the children of the couple’s great-great-grandson in 1760 following his death. The works passed through a few European nobles’ collections and were last sold in 1824 through Christie’s London to a private collection in the United Kingdom up until this summer. The auction house was consulted to sell the works again, and the pair was acquired by Henry Holtman for $14 million on July 6.

Scholars believe Jan Willemsz van der Pluym was a wealthy plumber from the Dutch city of Leiden who married Jaapgen Caerlsdr in 1591. Their only son, Dominicus van der Pluym, married Rembrandt’s first cousin on his mother’s side, Cornelia van Suytbroeck. Dominicus and Cornelia’s son, artist Karel van der Pluym, is thought to have apprenticed under Rembrandt and is recognized as the artist’s only heir.

The little portraits of Jan and Jaapgen were outfitted with new frames before joining some other Rembrandt paintings on display in Gallery 2.8 at the Rijksmuseum.

Researchers at the Rijksmuseum collaborated with Christie’s to attribute the couple’s portraits as works by Rembrandt. The pair’s ages (Jan was 69, Jaapgen was 70) are inscribed on the works and were verified by the museum through research into their birth years. Technical research conducted through paint sample analysis and X-ray imaging confirmed that the pigments used throughout the portraits were frequently found in other Rembrandt works, and that the manner in which the Old Master built up their likeness was in line with other portraiture he completed between 1634 and 1635.

The loose, fast brushwork and small scale led the museum to believe that the works were completed as a favor to the couple, though Rembrandt reportedly painted larger renditions of their portraits.

As the Rijksmuseum hosts the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the world, Holterman decided that the two portraits should be displayed at the institution on a long-term loan. The tiny paintings are exhibited together alongside several other paintings from the artist’s lifetime.

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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