A meeting of five important Amsterdam inspectors behind a table. Although it seems a dull affair, Rembrandt manages to turn this meeting into an exciting, lively gathering.Portraits of important people are potentially very dull, mainly because the patrons interfere and want to be portrayed in a predictable and formal way. And the customer is always right. But somehow, Rembrandt managed to take a very different approach, whereby the group portrait of five notables is still interesting after more than 350 years. Although the men are portrayed in a very different way, they have retained their dignity. X-rays of the painting show how Rembrandt laboured to arrive at this composition during the painting process.
We see the wardens of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild looking up from behind their table. They are important, dignified gentlemen in an important metropolis. Syndics supervised the quality of dyed woollen fabrics – or ‘laken’ in Dutch – that were made and treated in Amsterdam. Although the work was quite tedious, it was important, as they were responsible for safeguarding the reputation of this major share of the city’s economy. In 1801, the City of Amsterdam offered to sell the painting to a forerunner of the current Rijksmuseum, the Nationale Konst-Gallerij. However, the director did not want it, as he thought it was dull.
Looking at the X-rays shows us Rembrandt’s search for a lively composition. The head of the chairman (the seated man with the book open in front of him) was tried out in two different positions before completion. The man to the left of the chairman was originally standing upright, but Rembrandt added life and dynamism to the painting by having the man stand up. The X-rays also show how the wardens’ servant (the bare-headed man) was put in no fewer than three different positions before this final one.
In Rembrandt’s work, there is a perfect balance between light and shade, action and stillness, and communication between the subjects and contact with the viewer
Welcome or unwelcome?
One of the syndics is looking at us as if he has been interrupted in his important work. Have we disturbed him or are we welcome?
Schoonheid van tapijt
Although the paint of the tablecloth has faded in places over time, the beauty of the fabric is still impressive.
Over het schilderij
- The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild, known as The Syndics, 1662
- Oil on canvas, 191.5 x 279 cm
- Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; on loan from the City of Amsterdam
On display at the ‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition will be more than a hundred works created during the last phase of Rembrandt’s life. To get you in the mood, here are twelve works included in this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
The Syndics, 1662
A meeting of five important inspectors of the Amsterdam drapers’ guild behind a table. Rembrandt turned this meeting into a visually exciting scene.Read more
Self Portrait with Two Circles, ca. 1665-1669
Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself.Read more
Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, 1654
This is one of the most famous paintings hanging in Louvre. Here we see a beautiful young woman bathing. She has just read a letter and now finds herself in a dilemma.Read more
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665
What you immediately notice about this large painting is Rembrandt’s rough application of paint. In this work, Rembrandt broke with all conventions of the day by smeering on and scratching through the paint.Read more
The Family Portrait, ca. 1665
‘The Family Portrait’ has not travelled since 1956. Just for this once, it is on loan to the Rijksmuseum especially for this exhibtion.Read more
A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
Here we see an alluring woman wading through the water while slowly lifting the hem of her dress. But who is this beauty?Read more
Recumbent Lion, ca. 1660-1665
Rembrandt preferred to draw lifelike representations of things he saw around him in real life. This lion is a good example.Read more
A Young Woman sleeping, ca. 1654
This drawing of a woman taking a quick nap is very typical of Rembrandt: an artist who was always recording the little scenes in his everyday life.Read more
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
When painting this Biblical story about Jacob, Rembrandt chose an unexpected moment that must have been a surprising choice for viewers of his day.Read more
Titus at his Desk, 1655
Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work in which we can recognise his own son.Read more
The conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, ca. 1661-1662
In this painting, Rembrandt made use of a clever and entirely new technique to tell a story.Read more
Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback, ca. 1663
As an artist, Rembrandt was familiar with the rules of portraiture but he pushed the boundaries whenever possible.Read more