Included in Rembrandt’s prolific body of work is a series of twenty-five drawings inspired by paintings created by Mughal artists in India. How did Rembrandt come across Mughal images? Why did he make these drawings? These questions are at the heart of an upcoming exhibition organized by Getty Museum curator Stephanie Schrader. In this episode, Schrader discusses Rembrandt’s series and what inspired him to draw in a style different from his own. Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India opens at the Getty Center on March 13, 2018.
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JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
STEPHANIE SCHRADER: These drawings always were accepted as Rembrandts, but they kind of fell outside the study of his, you know, typical drawing studies because they were so weird.
CUNO: In this episode I speak with curator Stephanie Schrader about the influence of India on a series of Rembrandt drawings.
Babur was the first Mughal Emperor. He descended from both Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia, and Chinghiz Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire. By the late 15th century, Babur captured Samarkand and drove south, crossing the Hindu Kush mountains to capture Kabul in Afghanistan. A few years later, he launched his first military campaign against Hindustan, reaching Delhi by 1525, where he set the foundation for the rise of the Mughal rule in India for the next three hundred years.
Jahangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor, ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627. It was during this era that Mughal painting reached its greatest height. At the same time, European Jesuits and Dutch traders were bringing books, engravings, and paintings with them when they traveled to India. Jahangir was fascinated by these European examples and he had his court painters copy many of them.
At his death, Jahangir was succeeded by his son, Shah Jahan, who ruled from 1628 to 1658. Shah Jahan is best known for his architectural patronage, which includes the commission of the Taj Mahal. He also continued the Mughal tradition of encouraging court painters, some of whose work made its way to Europe and influenced contemporary painters there.
One such European painter was Rembrandt, who made twenty-five drawings after Mughal paintings, one of which is in the collection of the Getty Museum. It shows the Emperor Shah Jahan and his favorite son, Dara Shikoh.
Rembrandt’s interest in Mughal paintings prompted Getty Museum curator Stephanie Schrader to organize an exhibition called Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India, which opens at the Getty on March 13, 2018. I recently met with Stephanie in the Museum’s drawings study room to take a peek at one of the drawings that will be included in the show and to learn more about Rembrandt’s interest in Indian painting.
Stephanie, why don’t we begin by having you describe the drawing in front of us?
SCHRADER: Yes. You’re looking at a drawing by Rembrandt that was made about 1656 to 1661, we’re not sure exactly of the date, but it’s about eight and a half by eleven, probably a little bit smaller.
SCHRADER: Inches. And it shows two figures that are drawn in brown-gray ink. They are primarily monochromatic in their tonation. And they’re two figures standing in conversation. One on the right holds a falcon and looks intently at his companion, who reaches out to him with his hand, as to sort of gesture his—or acknowledge his presence.
They’re both ornately dressed with elaborate jewelry hanging from their necks, decorating their feathered turbans, from their arms, from their wrists. They have elaborate sashes tied at their waists. They’re wearing tight-fitted jackets with long skirts. Their tight-fitted pants ruche at their ankles, and they’re wearing open-back slippers.
A better sense of who they is indicated by the figure on the left, who has an oriole sort of emanating from his head, which implies his divine status.
CUNO: And that’s Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor.
SCHRADER: Yes, and he’s—
CUNO: [over Schrader] More or less contemporary with Rembrandt.
SCHRADER: Yes, [CUNO: Is that correct?] exactly. And you see him conversing with his son, Dara Shukoh.
CUNO: So the obvious next question is, why did Rembrandt draw this drawing? How did he see—I assume he saw a model for the drawing, which would’ve been the actual Mughal painting. We call it painting, but it’s a work on paper like a drawing. So how did Rembrandt come into contact with this, and why did he then draw this after that Mughal painting?
SCHRADER: Well, you’ve touched upon the mystery—how did he come in contact with these compositions from India. I should begin by saying at the time Rembrandt’s making this, the Dutch are trading with India. They’re in the Port of Sarat. And goods—
CUNO: [over Schrader] Where is that, Sarat?
SCHRADER: That’s on the coast, the eastern coast of India. And they are trading and really have established sort of a stronghold there, ever since 1617. And goods, such as baskets and weapons and indigo, are coming back to Europe, and in addition, we believe, paintings. But what’s so remarkable about the composition that the Getty has is that it gives a sense of the high quality of Indian paintings that are being brought back to Amsterdam at this time. And this has been paintings that are made for Mughal rulers such as Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and even as early as those made for Akbar.
CUNO: Wow. The fir—the first great—well, not the first great, but a great emperor, who would’ve been Shah Jahan’s father or grandfather?
CUNO: Grandfather, yeah.
SCHRADER: Jahangir’s father.
CUNO: So we have this drawing by Rembrandt. And it looks like it’s a fairly depiction of the Mughal model that preceded it. But it has the look of Rembrandt about it. So where am I seeing this look of Rembrandt about it?
SCHRADER: Well, I think the most obvious place you’re seeing it is in the position of the feet. And a typical Mughal painting, the feet will be in a strict profile position. And what Rembrandt’s doing is turning them out ever so slightly. So he’s really trying to think about how weight is distributed in the body. You know, he can’t even conceive of what it would be like to have these feet in this strict parallel profile position, so he turns it out ever so slightly to distribute the weight. What I also think you’ll notice is in the hands. They’re much looser in their rendition than the articulation of the face. So typically for Rembrandt, he always has some aspect of a drawing that’s much more loosely drawn. And although he’s given incredible attention and detailed renditions of the jewelry, of the different types of fabrics, of the wrapping of the turban, the hands are very loose. You wouldn’t find that in a Mughal painting.
And what’s so interesting is that when Mughal scholars look at these Rembrandt drawings, they say, “Oh, my gosh, these are a mess.” And when Rembrandt scholars look at these Rembrandt drawings, they say, “Oh, my gosh, these are too finished.” So it really depends on your perspective and what you’re used to looking at on a regular basis.
CUNO: So the drawings are made in brownish ink with a brown wash on a camel-colored paper. And there’s a cast of a shadow behind the figures. Even a fairly accurate shadow on the figure on the right. So he was paying attention to the details of the dress, but also giving them a sense of a context. Is that something that he would’ve seen in the Mughal original? Or is this something that he was imposing on it because he had Western standards of space and—
SCHRADER: Right. I think what you’re seeing in terms of the shadow is something that he is imposing on it. But in terms of the space, it really is a pretty shallow space, which is very close to what you’d see in a Mughal composition.
But what you notice is the sheen of the paper. You talked about the color. And this is interesting because the Indian paintings that he would’ve seen are going to be heavily burnished. So every layer of paint, after it’s applied, it is burnished from behind to give it its luminosity. And what you’re seeing here in Rembrandt trying to somewhat evoke this sort of luminosity by using an Asian paper, which has a more yellow kind of tonation to it. And also, it’s more luminous than you’d see if he was using a European paper. And what’s also remarkable about that is that it’s the only time he uses Asian paper for his drawings.
So he made twenty-five of these altogether and they’re all on this Asian paper. And even though we know he used Asian paper for prints, he didn’t use it for the drawings. And what I believe is that he’s using this type of paper as a way to imitate and emulate the paper that would’ve been seen on the Mughal paintings. CUNO: Are they actually the same kind of paper? Or they have the same appearance?
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] They’re not the same exact kind of paper, no.
SCHRADER: One’s—you know, the Japanese paper, which many people believe this is, is made of gampi fibers that are particular to Japan and not to India. And the Indian papers are using fabrics and sometimes silk, which is more common there. And so it’s not gonna be the same type of fiber, no.
CUNO: So Rembrandt made twenty-five drawings after these Mughal paintings, that is seventeenth century Indian paintings. Are the other twenty-five drawings of similar nobility in terms of [SCHRADER: Yes.] subject matter?
SCHRADER: So what’s interesting is that of the twenty-five, Rembrandt made eight portraits of Shah Jahan who was his contemporary. The others—it’s either Jahangir, who’s Shah Jahan’s father, or Akbar, who’s, you know, the father of Jahangir. So this lineage, this Mughal lineage is very important. Or he shows the princes.
So in this case, he shows Dara Shukoh, who doesn’t go on to be the ruler after him, because his brother kills him. But he’s showing all the sons that could’ve been the rulers, and were often rulers in other regions, just not on an imperial scale.
CUNO: Why did Rembrandt make this drawing?
SCHRADER: Ah. Now, that’s a good question. So I believe if we just had one, I would’ve thought, oh, it’s just one of those flukes. You know, he saw one composition and he wanted to make just one copy of it. But the fact that he made so many of them, to me, is indicative of the status of these paintings in the Dutch culture. We know from one of his contemporaries, there was a whole poem written about Indian painting—its wondrous quality that the artists had taken the crown from European artists. So it had a level of status. Probably because of its rarity, but also because of its incredible finish. Remember, Mughal paintings were made using squirrel hairs, and sometimes with just one single hair of a squirrel hair. So very, very delicately rendered. So they did have a status.
And we also know that the Dutch were trading in Asia, and we have other instances where artists are buying Indian paintings and giving them to the upper echelons of the Dutch East India Company as a way to gain access and to gain favor. So this type of artwork had a certain level of cache and importance. And Rembrandt’s making these copies when he’s pretty much gone bankrupt, lost everything. It’s the end of his career. And I really do believe he thought that these could help him in some ways gain access, show his international flair, show that he was familiar with other portrait conventions and was trying to just think about how he could market himself.
CUNO: Was he showing these drawings to a potential patron who might patronize him for a painting, for example? To say, “Look, I can do this on this drawing [SCHRADER: Right.] and make this into a painting.”
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] You know, I don’t—we don’t have any examples of him actually using this type of compositions in his paintings, but the drawings in—I mean, think about him as a printmaker, right? He would make a print on European paper and then he’d make it again on Asian paper, as a way to, like, just keep it going, right? So you as a connoisseur would want the impressions on many different papers and many different states. So it’s a serial attitude as a way to kind of expand his patronage context and also just come up with inventive ways to market himself. Remember, this is the point in his career when he’s making portraits, and he’s coming up with all these different ways to make a portrait of somebody. So not just the finished technique he did in his early career, but sort of the looser—The Jewish Bride, for example. All these different ways of rendering individuals, as a way to show his virtuosity and his versatility.
CUNO: He didn’t make prints of the same subject matter.
SCHRADER: No. No.
CUNO: So I’m struggling with what role this would’ve played in his working process.
CUNO: It might have been just a fantasy that he had? That he was enamored of these paintings and he wanted to respond to them in some kind of way?
CUNO: But if he didn’t make them for prints that could then have been marketed and sold in numerous copies, or he didn’t make it into a painting— ’m assuming there’s no painting as—
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] No. No.
CUNO: Even any painting that’s got an Indian figure in it, [SCRADER: No, no.] identifiable as such.
SCHRADER: But he did make twenty-five of them, and they’re all on Asian paper. You don’t just do that, you know, for yourself. You don’t just do that for your private musings, to show your pupils. That had some type of function other than him just trying to copy and get it right. I think it could’ve possibly been conceived as a series.
Or another argument has been that perhaps he made them because he wanted the originals, he couldn’t afford them, so he copied them as a way to remember what he couldn’t have, or to record what he didn’t have. But we do know that Rembrandt—I mean, he did make copies of other works of art. I mean, an incredible collection. And he had many Italian Renaissance works in that collection. And we know that he would go to auctions and copy things that were on sale that he knew he wasn’t gonna be able to buy. He wanted to record them. But he didn’t need to make twenty-five of them to record a Mughal composition. So in my mind, if you’re gonna make that many of them, it’s like he’s creating his own album himself.
CUNO: Do we know where the original Mughal paintings are? Do they survive?
SCHRADER: Well, that is another interesting question. Some of them have been connected to the Schönbrunn Schloss in Vienna. There are two compositions in the Schönbrunn Schloss that can only be connected.
CUNO: Is that the castle of the famous collector?
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] That is the castle. And Empress Theresa…
CUNO: Oh, the imperial castle.
SCHRADER: …used them as wallpaper in one of her reception rooms. So they have been found—some of the compositions have been found there. But we can find these same compositions in many other collections. Because one thing you need to know about the way Indian artists work, they would repeat the same composition again and again. Sometimes they would just replace the heads of the rulers. So you can find this same composition with different rulers standing in conversation, one holding a falcon, in many different instances.
SCHRADER: What was remarkable about that collection is when they’ve taken them off view and disassembled this whole crazy wallpaper construction, they have been able to do more work and find out that they had Dutch inscriptions. So once you see the Dutch inscriptions, and once you see a composition that looks like Rembrandt’s, everyone says, “Oh, that must be the source.”
But we’ve found that only half of the drawings can be connected to compositions there. So there are still twelve other compositions that have no connection to the Schönbrunn Schloss. So that led me to believe that, you know, the source has not been found, and we can’t trace it to that collection specifically.
CUNO: So we have twenty-five drawings by Rembrandt after these Mughal subjects, Mughal paintings. And they all end up being collected by a eighteen century English collector. [SCHRADER: Yes] How did that happen?
SCHRADER: How did that happen? Well, we know that Jonathan Richardson, who’s the eighteen century British collector that you’re mentioning, is a great fan of Rembrandt. He owned hundreds, I think 250 drawings by Rembrandt. So we know that Rembrandt was one of his favorite artists. And we know that he, you know, did his best to collect as many great examples as he could by Rembrandt.
But who he bought them from—he didn’t buy them directly from Rembrandt, and we don’t have any collector’s mark on the drawing that dates it to a collector before Richardson. So that’s really sort of as far back as we can go.
CUNO: So Richardson was a great collector of Rembrandt, obviously had a taste for the Rembrandt paintings and drawings. Did he have a taste, also, for things Indian, given the role of the English in India at the time? Did he have Indian paintings in his collection?
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] He did have other Indian paintings, and they have his collector’s mark on them. We have three examples of Indian paintings that he had. People just assumed they were Rembrandts because they had a similar look to them. And they kind of got grouped together as Rembrandts when they were Indian. So that, to me, gives a sense of how, you know, Rembrandt’s fascination with India almost [she chuckles] preempted any British fascination, in a way, because they came Rembrandts, instead of Richardson’s collecting of them.
CUNO: So they stay with Richardson until his death?
SCHRADER: Until his death. And then his son—
CUNO: [over Schrader] And then were they sold at that time?
SCHRADER: Yes, [CUNO: Yeah?] 1747, and they went to a British collection. So you see our drawing was in the collection of Thomas Hudson. And so they stay in Britain for a while, and then subsequently get sold. Ours was bought at—I think it’s Sotheby’s. So they get dispersed after that. The British Museum has the largest collection of them. They have six. So they did stay in England for quite some time.
CUNO: Right, right. Now, we’re talking about this drawing because you’re doing an exhibition prompted by this drawing, looking at these other drawings and at the phenomenon of Rembrandt copying or drawing after the Indian Mughal original drawings or paintings. How did you begin to explore this topic?
SCHRADER: I was a graduate intern at the Getty in 1993. And I did an exhibition on costume and drapery studies, and this drawing featured in that exhibition. But I never really felt like I really fully unpacked what was interesting about this drawing.
And then after that, working here, I worked on an exhibition Telling the Difference: Rembrandt and his Pupils [read: Drawings by Rembrandt and His Pupils: Telling the Difference]. And I was looking at connoisseurship and issues of connoisseurship. But these drawings always were accepted as Rembrandts but they kind of fell outside the study of his typical drawing studies because they were so weird. They didn’t look like Rembrandt ’cause they looked like they were Indian. So I like those kind of stories when something is an anomaly and when it doesn’t quite fit in, and trying to make sense of its importance to Rembrandt.
So I just kept digging. And I met, through the Scholar[s] Program, people who were interested in, like, Indian artists looking at European artwork. So I started having a dialog with different scholars, and found out that Indian artists were copying European prints long before Rembrandt even, you know, possibly could’ve seen an Indian composition.
So trying to get—unpack how trade and art and diplomacy and cultural exchange, how all these kind of issues enter into this drawing. It’s not just about Rembrandt; it’s about Rembrandt and the world, and Rembrandt reaching out, and Rembrandt looking at his own traditions, but really through the lens of another tradition.
CUNO: Now, you had a very successful exhibition a few years ago about a drawing by Rubens, of a man who apparently was Korean—although there is some debate about where his [SCHRADER: Mm-hm] ethnic origin or his national origin was. Did that prompt this, as well? Did that figure into your planning for this exhibition?
SCHRADER: [over Cuno] It did. That exhibition, the success of that exhibition, made me go, okay, well, let’s think on about other drawings in our collection that speak to a different audience. As you know, the Getty has primarily Western European artists in our collection. And I was a student ambassador to Asia when I was in high school. And I think it always made me think about other cultures and how our Western tradition interacts with Eastern traditions. And this is it. These are the only two drawings I’ve got [they laugh] that reflect on those different traditions. So that’s another reason I came back to it.
CUNO: And now you’re going to India.
SCHRADER: I am. One of the drawings in the series from the British Museum is going to an exhibition, India and the World. And it won’t be here in my exhibition, so I decided, well, if it can’t be here, I’ll bring my exhibition to India, [she chuckles] insofar as that I will speak about the drawings and what they meant to Rembrandt. Because I do think for many people, just like that was true for Rubens, it’s really interesting for them to say, “Wait, Rembrandt knew about India? How could Rembrandt know about India? How could he have even had that connection?”
And in fact, we know the whole history of India—the Mughal Empire, there were Dutch accounts of it. He could’ve read them. Some of them were illustrated. So it wasn’t so unfamiliar to him. And just trying to make those types of connections clearer for our audience to know, and for the Indian population to know, that this was an important moment in his career. It was important for the way he drew, the way he thought about line, the way he thought about detail, and the way he really positioned himself as an international player in the Amsterdam stage.
CUNO: Well, it’s a hugely complex question that opens up from a single drawing. And tell us when the exhibition starts and how long it runs.
SCHRADER: Exhibition starts March and ends June 2018. So for three months, we will have all—well, almost all of the Rembrandt drawings here on views, paired with Mughal compositions that look a lot like them.
And then we’ll also have a small section of Indian paintings that make reference to Dutch secular prints. So you’ll see in the exhibition, in addition to finding it strange that Rembrandt might be looking at Shah Jahan and Dara Shukoh, you’ll see an Indian artist making a depiction of a pancake maker, which Rembrandt also etched. You know, I like to think about these exchanges being both ways. It’s not just Rembrandt looking to India, but it’s also about India looking back to the Western tradition.
CUNO: Well, it’s an intriguing subject, so thanks for the time on the podcast and thanks for the work you’ve undertaken to produce this exception exhibition and catalog [that’s] going to be associated with it.
SCHRADER: Thank you.
CUNO: The exhibition, Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India, opens at the Getty center March 13, 2018.
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JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
STEPHANIE SCHRADER: These drawings always were accepted as Rembrandts, but they kind of fell out...