Press Release in English - Persbericht Rembrandthuis - Persbericht Universiteit Antwerpen


X-rays Reveal an Unfinished

self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn

See bottom of page for links to coverage in the International and Local Press



Photograph of "Old Man with Beard", 18 x 17.5 cm, Rembrandt van Rijn; (c) R. Gerritsen
(Click on the image to view a larger version.)



On Friday 2 December 2011 an unknown painting by Rembrandt is being presented in the Rembrandt House. The small panel, Old Man with a Beard was painted by Rembrandt around 1630, at the end of his time in Leiden. The Rembrandt House has the painting on loan from a private collector.

The research into the painting and the attribution to Rembrandt will be explained at length during the presentation by Ernst van de Wetering (Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam and head of the Rembrandt Research Project), Martin Bijl (restorer), Joris Dik (professor at the Delft University of Technology) and Koen Janssens (professor at the University of Antwerp).

Images of the painting will also be available at the presentation.

Ernst van de Wetering is convinced of the authenticity of this work on the grounds of the technical similarities in painting style to Rembrandt’s paintings dating from around 1630.
There is also a copy of the painting that must have been made by one of the apprentices in Rembrandt’s studio.
The same image appears in a reproductive print of 1633, with an inscription stating that it was made by Rembrandt.
Over and above this, scientific investigations have shown that there is an unfinished self-portrait by Rembrandt under the paint surface.

The self-portrait was revealed when the painting was scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble using a dual energy X-ray imaging technique, and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in New York using Macro-scanning X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF), a technique first applied to paintings by Professor Koen Janssens (University of Antwerp) and Professor Joris Dik (Delft University of Technology). The measurements at BNL took advantage of a newly-developed fluorescence microprobe system, which enables large area surfaces to be scanned with high definition.

XRF technology detects the pigments in hidden layers of paint, making it possible to record overpainted compositions photographically. This new technology has previously resulted in spectacular discoveries in paintings by Francisco Goya and Vincent van Gogh.

From 1 May to 1 July 2012 the Rembrandt House Museum is staging a special exhibition of research into ten paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries using XRF technology.

-- End of press release --

BACKGROUND INFORMATION (Dutch version/Nederlandse versie)

This website focuses on the scientific investigation conducted by an international consortium of scientists to visualize the hidden, unfinished self-portrait of Rembrandt hidden below the Bearded Old Man.

In the course of 2009 Ernst van de Wetering first approached Joris Dik and Koen Janssens with the present painting. Van de Wetering was reconsidering the painting's attribution at that time. One of the questions at hand concerned the potential presence of a second figure painted below the bearded Old Man.
X-ray radiography and infrared reflectography had shown various alterations to the composition of the painting, notably around the collar and head dress of the figure. However, it was unclear whether the surface figure itself had been reworked or whether a second, different figure existed below the surface painting. For the art historian Ernst van de Wetering and the conservator Martin Bijl, these were important questions, relating to the paintings attribution as well as the conservation treatment.

Intrigued by these questions, Joris Dik and Koen Janssens set out an elaborate scientific campaign aiming to shed light on the painting’s enigmatic substructure.

The imaging techniques used for this investigation included X-ray radiography (XRR), dual energy (K-edge) X-ray absorption imaging and X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF). In addition, optical and electron microscopy, combined with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM/EDX) were used to study a microscopic paint sample, revealing the paint stratigraphy and its chemical composition.

The measurements were carried out at the Universities of Delft and Antwerp and included work at two different synchrotron radiation facilities: the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France and the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven National Laboratories, Upton, NY, USA.

The first step was to examine the painting with K-edge absorption imaging at beam line ID17 of the ESRF. This method allows to quickly visualize the distribution of heavy elements in paintings, notably in pigments that occur in fleshtone colours such as lead white (Pb, lead) and vermillion (Hg, mercury). However, based on the results the presence of a full-blown, second figure could be excluded.
Subsequently, measurements with portable XRF spectrometry showed unusual local concentrations of copper that could not be explained by surface features in the painting. Based on these measurements made at Antwerp University, Dik and Janssens decided to perform macro-XRF elemental scanning, with the aim to chart the distribution of copper over the entire painting. Earlier, the feasibility of this technique in revealing hidden paintings had been shown on paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Francisco de Goya.

In the present case, measurements were carried out at NSLS under the guidance of Dr. Peter Siddons, providing high resolution maps of copper. The use of MAIA -- a new, fast x-ray detector developed by researchers at BNL and CSIRO -- was crucial for the visualization effort, as it allowed researchers to produce high-definition elemental maps of the entire painting.

The copper distribution revealed the contour lines of a beardless, seemingly younger male figure wearing a beret. This distribution image corresponds to the initial sketch of the painting, also known as the underpainting. Cross-sectional analysis later on confirmed the presence of copper in the lower layer of the paint stratigraphy. Apparently, this first version of the painting had not been completed, but was abandoned in favour of the present surface figure.

It was in the contours of this unfinished figure that Ernst van de Wetering recognized the typical posture, hair dress, white collar and black beret that characterizes many of the (early) self-portraits of Rembrandt. Based on this analogy, he concluded that the painting had been started as a self-portrait, left unfinished and then changed into the present Bearded Old Man.

In combination with other arguments of art historical nature, the investigation with synchrotron X-rays proved to be a crucial piece of evidence in finally attributing the painting to Rembrandt.


Step 1 (Amsterdam, NL)

Photograph ((c) R. Gerritsen) of 'Old man with a beard', before restauration.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)



Conventional X-ray radiography ((c) R. Gerritsen) of the painting shows that below the 'Old man with a beard', another representation may be present.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)



Step 2: K-edge absorption imaging at the medical beamline ID17 of the ESRF, Grenoble, France

Advanced dual energy X-radiography at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France)






Close-up of the painting at beamline ID17 of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France)

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)





Dual energy X-ray radiograph obtained at ESRF ID17, reflecting the distribution of Pb in the painting.

In contrast to the conventional X-ray radiograph, the structure of the wood panel no longer dominates this image. Thus, the collar and general posture of the person in the overpainted portrait is more clearly visible. However, the general shape of the head of the person and any details of the face remain invisible.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)









Aerial view of the ESRF, Grenoble, France (credit: ESRF/A. Petricola)

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)









Step 3: PXRF investigations, Antwerp, B

Locations on the painting where the local composition was determined by means of PXRF (Portable X-ray fluorescence analysis).

On positions 8-12 and 17, an increased level of Copper (Cu) was observed.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)




Step 4: MAXRF scanning, National Synchrotron Light Source, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY, USA.

The painting is placed on a motorized scanning stage that allows
for element-specific mapping of the painting. A pencil beam of synchrotron radiation (SR) is swept over the painting.

X-ray fluorescence signals emitted by the atoms in the paint are recorded by a MAIA detector (FD).

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)



Dr. Peter Siddons (NSLS), Mr. Matthias Alfeld (University of Antwerp) and Mr. Robin Kirkham (CSIRO) and the painting at NSLS.


















Dr. Peter Siddons (NSLS) placing the panel inside the MA-XRF scanner (click photograph to download an .avi movie - 28 MB).



Prof. Joris Dik (TUDelft) and Dr. Arthur Woll (CHESS) observing the motion of the MA-XRF scanner (click photograph to download an .avi movie - 54 MB).


















Resulting elemental distributions of iron (Fe), copper (Cu),
lead (Pb) and mercury (Hg).


(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

oldman_nsls_fe Fe oldman_nsls_pb Pb

oldman_nsls_cu Cu oldman_nsls_hg Hg

Copper (Cu) and distribution map with the contours of the covered portrait superimposed (reconstruction by E. Van de Wetering); "green-toned" equivalent of the Copper map.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

oldman_nsls_cu_outline Cu oldman_nsls_cu_green Cu

Aerial view of the NSLS, Upton, NY, USA (credit: BNL/P. Genzer)

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)


Comparison of the outline revealed in the hidden portrait
to other self portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn:
(left) Rembrandt as a young man, ((c) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, USA, acc. no. 53.18), 21.9 x 16.5 cm; (right) Self portrait of Rembrandt dated 1630, ((c) National museum, Stockholm, S) 15 x 12.2 cm.

(Click on the image to view a larger version.)


Step 5: Paint sample examination, Delft, NL

Examination of a paint sample by optical and electron microscopy, collected from the background (copper rich) part of the painting reveals coarse blueish pigment particles (see arrow), rich in Copper, to be present in the darker lower layer.


Powerpoint presentation with summary


Media contacts:

Rembrandt Huis, Leslie Schwartz, marketing@rembrandthuis.nl,  +31 20 57 05 221

TU Delft, Michel van Baal, M.vanBaal@tudelft.nl +31 15 278 5454

University of Antwerp, Peter de Meyer, Peter.DeMeyer@ua.ac.be +32 3 265 47 11

ESRF, Claus Habfast, claus.habfast@esrf.fr +33 4 7688 2128 and +33 666 662 384

NSLS, Peter Genzer, genzer@bnl.gov +1 631 344 3174

CSIRO, Bill Stephens, bill.stephens@csiro.au +61 2 6276 6152



Science contacts:


TU Delft,

      Prof. Joris Dik, j.dik@tudelft.nl

University of Antwerp,

      Prof. Koen Janssens, koen.janssens@ua.ac.be

European Synchrotron Radiation Facility,

      Dr. Alberto Bravin, bravin@esrf.eu

National Synchrotron Light Source,

      Dr. Peter Siddons, siddons@bnl.gov

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation,

      Mr. Robin Kirkham, robin.kirkham@csiro.au


Some useful links:


- Science Illustrated (US): What lies beneath (11 November 2011)

- Labyrinth (Dutch TV): Door Schilderijen Heenkijken (14 September 2011, in Dutch)

- Unknown portrait discovered under Goya's masterpiece in the Rijksmuseum (13 September 2011)

- http://www.atv.be/campus-tv/campustv-28-september-2011 (28 September 2011, in Dutch)

- http://www.vangogh.ua.ac.be

- Maia X-ray fluorescence detector system

- http://www.hiddenmasterpieces.com



K. Janssens is grateful for the support from FWO, Brussels through projects G.0704.08 and G.01769.09 and their "Big Science" programme.
J. Dik acknowledges the support from NWO, Den Haag through their VIDI programme.

Detector R&D at Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.



Local Media Coverage (in Dutch, a few selected items):



"Nieuw schilderij van Rembrandt ontdekt"

Play a movie of Ernst van de Wetering discussing the discovery
(in Dutch, 26 MB)




Listen to an audiofragment of Ernst van de Wetering being interviewed by Trudy van Rijswijck (NOS)

vrtjournaal oldman_KJ_VRTNieuws


destandaard_logo "Nieuw Schilderij van Rembrandt ontdekt"
demorgen_logo "Nieuw Schilderij van Rembrandt ontdekt"
hln_logo "Nieuw Schilderij van Rembrandt ontdekt"
youtube youtube_JD_start
binnendland_logo oldman_binnenland_JD
depers_logo oldman_EvdW_Kikkerperspectief
volkskrant rembrandt_VK
leidsh_dagblad_logo "Nieuw Schilderij van Rembrandt ontdekt"
nu_logo oldman_EvdW_pointing
kunstpedia_logo "Onbekend schilderij van Rembrandt in Museum Het Rembrandthuis"

"Unknown Rembrandt painting in Rembrandt House Museum"


International Media Coverage (a few selected items):


gb_flag bbcnews_logo " 'Lost' Rembrandt self-portrait revealed"
gb_flag independent_logo " New Rembrandt revealed"
gb_flag guardian_logo "Rembrandt self portrait discovered with latest X-ray technology"
gb_flag telepgraph_logo "Rembrandt painting identified with X-rays"
germany_flag spiegelonline_logo " 'Mann mit Bart' ist ein echter Rembrandt"
germany_flag yahoo_germany_logo "Dank „Röntgenblick“: Gemälde erweist sich als echter Rembrandt"
austria_flag diepresse_logo "Weiteres Rembrandt-Gemälde als echt identifiziert"
switserland_flag news_ch_logo " «Alter Mann mit Bart» als Rembrandt identifiziert"
france_flag dauphine_logo


" Un Rembrandt peut en cacher un autre !"

italy_flag mezzogiorno_logo " Ad Amsterdam, un 'nuovo' Rembrandt"
italy_flag aquarius_logo " Sotto un celebre dipinto, scoperto un autoritratto incompiuto di Rembrandt"
us_flag washingtontimes_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag sanfran_cron_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag seattle_times_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag thespec_logo "The truth was under the beard"
us_flag abcnews_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag cbcnews_logo "Rembrandt Rediscovered after 390 years"
us_flag ap_logo "Experts reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag upi_logo "Hidden Rembrandt painting revealed"
us_flag google_logo "Experts reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag channel_one_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag msnbs_logo "Iconic artist produced hundreds of paintings, etchings and drawings, but new finds are extremely rare"
us_flag denverpost_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag seattle_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
us_flag huffington_logo " 'Bearded Old Man,' Rembrandt Painting Correctly Identified By X-Ray"
malasia_flag yahoo_malaysia_logo "Experts Reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"


"Amsterdam museum identifies new Rembrandt"


"Amsterdam museum identifies new Rembrandt"
india_flag yahoo_india_logo "Rembrandt house museum releases photo of new Rembrandt"
india_flag indiatimes_logo "Hidden Rembrandt painting revealed"
canada_flag yahoo_canada_logo "Rembrandt house museum releases photo of new Rembrandt"
canada_flag winnipeg_logo "Dutch experts reclassify painting as real Rembrandt after finding self-portrait underneath"
china_flag chinapost_logo "Experts reclassify painting as authentic Rembrandt after high-tech investigation"
taiwan_flag taiwain_news_logo "Experts reclassify painting as real Rembrandt"
mexico_flag cronica_logo "Expertos reclasifican cuadro como Rembrandt"
australia_flag australianBC_logo "Museum Identifies new Rembrandt painting"
us_flag labmanager_logo " Using X-rays to Peel Back the Layers of a Purported Rembrandt"





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