Q: My mother passed away last year and while cleaning her house, I found this painting on canvas among her treasures. The picture resembles the work titled "Tronie of a Young Man With Gorget and Beret," and I always remember my mother talking about having a Rembrandt in the house. This painting measures 7 by 9 inches, which is far smaller than the original, but the canvas appears to be quite old. I am curious if there is an actual value.
A: Could it be? Could it actually be a work of art from the hands of the legendary 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)? It looks too good to be true — and in this case, the old aphorism proves to be correct.
Today, the original of this painting hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Originally it was called "Self Portrait as a Young Man." During a recent renovation, it was discovered that there is a signature under old varnish, and this has increased the scholarly doubts that this image was painted by Rembrandt.
There is some thought that the iconic artist might have painted some of it, but the work was finished by a student or another artist. But that is a debate in which we are not qualified to participate. All we can say is that the image is a fine example of Dutch old master painting and is an important part of the Uffizi's legendary collection of artists' self-portraits.
As far as we can determine, the original painting was first owned by Johann Wilhelm (1650-1706) and his wife, Anna Maria Lusia de Medici. Johann Wilhelm collected artists' self-portraits — sometimes called "Tronies" — just like his Medici father-in-law.
The painting passed to the Gerini family and was first exhibited as a Rembrandt self-portrait in 1724. "Tronie of a Young Man With Gorget and Beret" came to the Uffizi in 1818 and has remained there for the past 200 years or so.
"Tronie" is the Dutch word for "face" and in artistic terms was the visage of someone who caught the artist's eye — usually someone with exaggerated facial features or expressions, perhaps an actor in costume or the artist himself. Artists painted Tronies rather extensively and sometimes they used these images as part of larger biblical or historical paintings.
"Gorgets" are pieces of armor worn at the throat and neck (from the French "gorge" or "neck") and usually made from steel or leather. Later on they were a symbol of an officer's rank and could be rather decorative.
It has been quite common since the 18th century for art students and fledgling artists to copy the art available for public view in great museums and private collections. The painting in today's question is a copy probably painted in Florence, Italy, during the mid- to late-19th century and has a decorative value in the $300 to $400 range without a frame.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you'd like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.