Rembrandt and the Polemical Monographic Exhibition:
“Rembrandt, the Master and His Workshop” in Amsterdam, Berlin and London in 1991-92
Catherine B. Scallen
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
“Rembrandt, The Master and His Workshop”, mounted in 1991-92 by curators at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and the National Gallery of London, was the most consequential and controversial Rembrandt exhibition of the twentieth century. It had an unusually close connection to an ongoing catalogue raisonné, The Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, by the Rembrandt Research Project. At the time of the 1991-92 exhibition, three volumes of the eventual six had been published and had received considerable attention from scholars and in the press.
The paintings volume of the exhibition catalogue Rembrandt, The Master and His Workshop served as an outlet for the theories of the organization and practices of Rembrandt’s workshop espoused by the RRP, delivered in a fashion meant to be accessible by the general public. While not all of the ideas (or attributions) of the RRP were accepted by the curators themselves, the exhibition nonetheless served as a visual demonstration of the RRP’s unconventional understanding of Rembrandt as a painter, while the catalogue entries and essays provided forums for arguing positions on Rembrandt as a teacher and workshop master.
It is a timely moment to revisit the exhibition and catalogue twenty-five years after “Rembrandt, The Master and His Workshop” was mounted to see how the historiography of Rembrandt painting connoisseurship and the understanding of Rembrandt as a master of a workshop have developed. My primary material will be contemporary exhibition reviews and later responses to the exhibition and catalogue, including monographs on Rembrandt written since 1991, in order to trace the exhibition’s reception and possible influence on scholarship. I will also consider how this reception affected the organization and positions taken by the RRP in the final three volumes of the Corpus, the last only published in 2015, which in many ways were radically different from the first three volumes.