When Dutch Master Rembrandt Made Mughal Miniatures from Artistory

 

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Because he was one of the greatest geniuses in the history of art, naturally many other aspects of Rembrandt’s life leading up to his burial in an unmarked grave have somewhat remain undiscussed.  In the 1650s, with tragedies of his personal life behind him, Rembrandt started to acquire art from all over the world. This rare collection of Old Masters Paintings, prints, and antiquities included busts of the Roman Emperors, suits of Japanese armour among many objects from Asia, as well as we as collections of natural history and minerals. This collection of ‘drawings and prints from the master of the world,’ once bailed him out of bankruptcy in 1656 but eventually was not worth enough leading Rembrandt to sell his house and printing press. What has often remained undiscussed is, however, despite his descent into extreme poverty, this collection presented him as a connoisseur in cross-culture art exchange in the world and also allowed him to indulge in the arts of the other side of the worlds without moving an inch.  

Four Orientals seated under a tree, Rembrandt, circa 1656-1661. Photo credit: British Museum.

The inventory list from the sale of his collection survived and as it turns out, there were many items in the inventory that were stated as East Indian or Indian. They included East Indian, cup, boxes, basket, and fans as well as sixty Indian hand weapons, including arrow, shafts, javelin, and bows, and a pair of costume for an Indian man and woman. One of the items, listed in this inventory as item 203 was described as ‘a book of curious drawing in miniature as well as woodcuts and engraving on copper and various costume,’ Examples of miniatures painting found in Mughal Era can be seen below.

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It has been debated, but never specifically proved, that these curious items could have been the miniature paintings from the Mughal court in India that inspired this great master to produce a collection of 23 etchings that were unlike anything he had done before. Drawn in the last years of his life and on expensive Japanese paper, they were copies of the speculated Mughal miniature collection he had but nonetheless stands out for its detailing and richness. As said, there are no specific records of Mughal Miniatures sourced from India in Rembrandt’s inventory but to put the history of Dutch occupation in India in perspective it hardly comes as a surprise. It, in fact, comes at the intersection of the vast trade practices of Dutch East India Company or Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie VOC as it was called and the importance of art practices in India during the Mughal era. 

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