Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘LIEVEN WILLEMSZ VAN COPPENOL, WRITING-MASTER: THE SMALLER PLATE’, ca. 1658, Christopher-Clark Fine Art

Lieven Willemsz van Coppenol (1599-1667) was the principal of the "French school" in Amsterdam until 1650. An important part of the curriculum in those days was calligraphy, and ordinary schoolmasters were among the most proficient practitioners of this art. When Coppenol suffered a kind of nervous breakdown and was prevented from continuing his work as a schoolmaster, he devoted himself altogether to calligraphy, becoming something of a fanatic about it. He traveled all over the country giving demonstrations and showing off his work, and he soon came to be a well known figure.

His fame was due in the first place to his capacity for self-promotion. Among his gimmicks was the commissioning of etched portraits of himself by famous artists (including Cornelis Visscher and Rembrandt) which he would send to as many poets as he could think of with the request to write poems of praise to him or his work. If they insisted upon it, he would even pay them.

Given this practice of Coppenol's, it would seem fairly certain that Rembrandt's etched portrait of him was commissioned. There is no evidence that the two men were friends, as is supposed in much of the older literature.

Christopher White, Rembrandt as an Etcher: A Study of the Artist at Work, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1999, pp. 165-68, no. 217 (ill.); Erik Hinterding / Ger Luijten / Martin Royalton-Kish, Rembrandt the Printmaker, Fitzroy Dearborne Publishers, Chicago & London, 2000, p. 358 (ill.); Clifford S. Ackley, Rembrandt’s Journey: Painter-Draftsman-Etcher, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2003, no. 210, p. 301 (ill.); Gary Schwartz, The Rembrandt Book, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 2006, no. 493, p. 291 (ill.); Émile Michel, Rembrandt Painter, Engraver and Draftsman, Vol. I, Parkstone Press International, New York, 2008, no. 20, p. 34 (ill.); Erik Hinterding, Rembrandt Etchings from the Frits Lugt Collection, Thoth Publishers, Bussum, 2008, no. 210, vol. II p. 236 (ill.).

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