The Corpus

In more than 40 years of its existence, the RRP released a total of five books of their findings, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, with the last two versions written in a different format. In 1982, the first book was released, and soon after it became a shock to people in the art world that a large number of Rembrandt’s works that were valued by so many were no longer considered to be by Rembrandt.

The RRP was thought to have taken too tough of an approach in accepting Rembrandt works, with experts suggesting they should have agreed to fewer than 250. This was in relation to a 1935 figure by Abraham Bredius, considered one of the greatest early 20th Century Rembrandt scholars, who accepted 613 paintings. Experts then suggested this number was way too high and should be cut in half.

When the second volume of the Corpus came out in 1986, there was near social unrest, with demonstrations on some European streets in protest of the book’s findings. People were angry with the RRP for having said many of the paintings that were thought to be real, were not. Art dealers, collectors and institutions that housed Rembrandt artworks were now being told by the RRP that some of them were not his, which meant the loss of millions of dollars. Many aristocratic families who had paintings by him that have hung in their homes for hundreds of years were told they were not authentic.

As a result, there was much criticism of the RRP, including by the press. Other groups were formed to compete with the RRP and to contradict their work. Some of the paintings like the hotly debated New York’s The Polish Rider, were rejected by the project, but then later reinstated and considered real again. These were completely unexpected findings with many people believing they were incorrect.

When the third volume was released in 1989, museums and private collectors found that over 100 works had been rejected, leading to a perceived failure of the RRP to make accurate determinations. The works that were re-examined and reversed show a discrepancy with authentication practices of the RRP. In addition, there is disagreement about 80 paintings that have not yet been catalogued.

By the time the fourth volume was published in 2005, the entire order of the book had been changed. It went from being in chronological order for the first three volumes, covering his works painted from 1625 to 1642, to a thematic order, dealing with the authenticity of the 30 or so painted self-portraits from the period of 1642 to 1669. The RRP stated they changed this in hopes to develop a “solid foundation from which to explore further the phenomenon of Rembrandt’s art.”

The RRP produced volume IV with an aim to “place those works that have usually been referred to as Rembrandt’s self-portraits in a new and coherent context.” In this book, members of the RRP set out to revise the “limits of Rembrandt’s autograph oeuvre, and attempt to “situate those works whose attribution to Rembrandt we can no longer accept.” They acknowledge that while some “readers may be shocked by several unexpected dis-attributions, some may well find that we have been considerably more restrained in our exclusion of certain works from Rembrandt’s oeuvre than our more recent predecessors.”

The fifth volume released in 2010 lists the research results conducted by the RRP. This version is a catalog and analysis, offering an illustrated survey of 90 small-scale history and genre paintings from 1625 to 1669, as well as 80 etchings and 50 drawings. It lists works by Rembrandt as well as those by his pupils and followers that were sometimes made in collaboration. A new approach in this book covers Rembrandt as an artist, namely his thought processes when painting. The Berlin Susanna and the Elders is one of the paintings reviewed.