Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘The Shipbuilder and his Wife ’, 1633, Royal Collection Trust

Traditionally called 'The Shipbuilder and his Wife', this couple were identified in 1970 as Jan Rijcksen (1560/2-1637) and his wife Griet Jans. He was a shareholder in the Dutch East India Company and from 1620 their master shipbuilder; both were Roman Catholics. He is shown working on what looks like a treatise on shipbuilding rather than a specific design, with inscriptions on the various papers naming the sitter, the artist and the date, 1633. The only object not immediately identifiable is the instrument for drawing the curving planks running lengthways down a ship's hull. Married couples are usually shown at this date as two separate portraits, with the husband hung to the left (as we look at it, that is on the wife's right hand), often with some gestures or glances linking the two. Rembrandt has created a composition as if these two portraits are run together into a single image. This means that the figures overlap and their interaction is more vivid: we are to imagine that Griet Jans has burst into the room (her hand still on the door), interrupting her husband with a message which seems to her (if not to him) of the utmost urgency.

Purchased by George IV in 1811 for 5,000 guineas

About Rembrandt van Rijn

A prolific painter, draftsman, and etcher, Rembrandt van Rijn is considered the greatest artist of Holland's Golden Age. He worked from direct observation, and despite the evolution of his style over the course of his career, Rembrandt’s compelling descriptions of light, space, atmosphere, modeling, texture, and human affect are the result of intense perceptual study. A prominent portraitist, Rembrandt is most famous for The Night Watch (1642), a monumental painting of militia guards that features Rembrandt’s distinctive use of chiaroscuro.

Dutch, 1606-1669, Leiden, Netherlands, based in Amsterdam and Leiden, Holland