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: A Closer Look: Rembrandt's "Goldweigher's Field"


Richard Campbell



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In 1995, the Institute acquired a splendid impression of Rembrandt van Rijin's etching with drypoint, The Goldweigher's Field, which was executed in 1651. This print ranks among the artist's masterpieces of landscape in its sweeping panoramic view of the environs of the town of Haarlem. The composition is the culmination of Rembrandt's ten-year exploration of the Dutch landscape. Ironically, the traditional title, The Goldweigher's Field, is a misnomer dating from the 18th century when the print was thought to depict the domain of the finance minister, Jan Uytenbogaert (the gold weigher), near Amsterdam. In fact, the print represents Saxenburg, the estate of Christoffel Thijsz, Rembrandt's creditor, from whom the artist purchased his extravagant house on the Saintanthoniesbreestraaat. This unwise transaction ultimately led to Rembrandt's 1659 bankruptcy.This print is Rembrandt's most intricately composed and revolutionary landscape print in its analytical observation, economy of line, and subtle patterns of light and shade. The artist chose a long, narrow, horizontal format for this sweeping panorama, which represents from left to right the silhouette of the town of Haarlem, Saxenburg, the church of Bloemendaal, and fields with laborers bleaching linen. The broad expanse of the sky remains blank. The Het Kopje—a hill in the dunes overlooking Saxenburg—was Rembrandt's vantage point. The basic composition was rendered with the etching needle; the various landscape elements were reworked with drypoint. The rich drypoint burr creates patterns of shade, which draw the eye into and around the landscape. A series of curving, etched lines create the sensation of continual movement.Of this etching, the eminent print scholar A. Hyatt Mayor said, "It is the only landscape in all art that wheels under the drive of invisible wind around a pivot on the horizon, as level lands seem to wheel when watched from a fast train. Only Rembrandt would have perceived such a turning from the crawl of a horse or coach." To heighten the effect of motion, Rembrandt reduces compositional elements like fields, thickets, reeds, grass, buildings, and figures to their most elementary, nearly abstract forms.The acquisition of The Goldweigher's Field is especially fortuitous for the Institute. In 1916, an exceedingly rare counterproof impression of this print was presented to the museum by Herschel V. Jones, the founder and benefactor of the Print Department. Often, Rembrandt would superimpose a moistened sheet of paper on a freshly pulled impression of a print and then run them through the press. The etching would be ruined in the process but a reverse impression of the image appeared on the blank sheet. Etchings always reverse the artist's design. The counterproof impression enabled him to view the image as it was originally drawn on the plate. The Minneapolis counterproof is one of only six documented impressions.The Goldweigher's Field and its counterproof will be featured in "A Closer Look" exhibition in the foyer to the French Period Room on the third floor. Both works will be displayed with eight landscape etchings by Rembrandt including The Three Trees, View of Amsterdam, The Landscape with Obelisk, and The Landscape with Shepherd and Sheep from the permanent collection that documents the stylistic evolution of the artist's landscape prints from 1640 to 1653.Richard Campbell is the John E. Andrus III Curator of Prints and Drawings.Related ImageRembrandt van Rijn
Dutch, 1606-1669
The Goldweigher's Field, 1651
Etching and drypoint
Gift of Herschel V. Jones, by exchange, The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, The Edith and Norman Garmezy Print and Drawing Acquisition Fund, and Gift of Funds from the Print and Drawing Council
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Source: Richard J. Campbell, "A Closer Look: Rembrandt's 'Goldweigher's Field,'" <i>Arts</i> 19, no. 4 (April 1996): 10.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009