An Old Master "Collaboration"

Among Rembrandt’s 350-plus recorded etchings, The Flight into Egypt: Altered from Seghers, circa 1653--a highlight in Swann's April 25 auction--stands out as a unique example of his reuse of another artist’s copper plate. Having acquired the plate of Hercules Seghers’s Tobias and the Angel (which Seghers himself had loosely based on an early 1600s composition by Hendrick Goudt), Rembrandt proceeded to burnish away the right-hand side of the composition, removing the figures of Tobias and the Angel and replacing them with the Holy Family on their flight into Egypt. 

Seghers was a reclusive, wildly inventive and highly self-editing graphic artist, and approximately 180 total impressions exist today of his 50 known etchings. As a native of Haarlem who often produced etchings printed in multiple colors and sometimes on cloth, he had a deep influence on Rembrandt’s career as an etcher.

Looking at an impression of Rembrandt’s The Flight into Egypt: Altered from Seghers, one can see the remnants of the wings of Seghers’s angel at the upper right. Rembrandt carefully preserved Seghers’s rather delicate, finely etched landscape occupying the left-hand side of the composition; blending it beautifully into his own darker, more heavily etched landscape on the right half of the plate. Never before had the hands of two of the greatest masters of etching been so wonderfully exposed on the same plate. This remains one of the most famous and important “collaborations” in the history of printmaking. 

Additional masterpieces by Rembrandt in Swann’s April 25th auction of Old Master through Modern Prints include an exceedingly scarce first state portrait of his friend, the goldsmith Jan Lutma, 1656, one of perhaps only several impressions still in private hands; as well as a stunning, early impression of his Self Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, one of the most celebrated etched self portraits of all time.

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