Rembrandt's Portrait of a Musician: Can it be Heinrich Schütz ?

Dick Wursten, based on an article by  Barry S. Brook and Carol Oja (on College Music Symposium), pictures added.

Rembrandt, Portrait of a Musician (more info, wikimedia commons)

The Corcoran Gallery's "Portrait of a Musician" by Rembrandt—signed and dated 1633, although not 100% sure it is 100% authentical — has caused considerable controversy surrounding the identity of the musician. Three claimants have been presented: Nicholas Lanier, Heinrich Schütz, and Constantijn Huygens. Until a decade ago it was widely accepted that it might be Heinrich Schütz, a theory advanced in 1937 by Bruno Maerker. 5 As proof Maerker compared the painting to one of the three known portraits of Schütz—that by Christoph Spetner in the Leipzig University Collection6 (see below)—and postulated that the subjects of the two works bore striking similarity to one another. personal note: I don't see it. The mouth, the hair, the colour of the eyes, all different (DW). 

Spetner Schutz

No evidence whatsoever exists that Heinrich Schütz ever visited Amsterdam, let alone in 1633. So most iconographers and Schütz-scholars remained skeptical. In 1963 Otto Benesch did an effort to link Schütz and Rembrandt through their dealings with Burckhardt Grossmann, the son of an acquaintance of Schütz.7 The Maerker-Benesch theory - although still completely based on suggestive reasoning, aka speculation - was accepted by many musicologists, among whom Hans Joachim Moser—Schütz's pre-war biographer8—and Wolfgang Rehm of the Heinrich Schütz Gesellschaft.  Benesch imagined Schütz going to Amsterdam as a personal 'detour' while travelling from Dresden to Copenhagen via Hamburg (Quite a detour by the way.)Building such an identification only on conjectures, is in my humble opinion not a proof of sound scholarship. It remains what it is: pure speculation, day-dreaming.

Whereas for Constantijn Huygens, the final candidate for the subject of Rembrandt's painting, there is much supporting evidence. Not only did he have ample opportunity to sit for a portrait by Rembrandt, but comparisons of the Corcoran portrait with authenticated representations of Huygens are most convincing.10 The identification of the musician as Huygens was made as early as 1942 by the art historian Edith Greindl,11 and has been given further credence in a superb study by Else Kai Sass, who discusses in careful detail all the literature and much of the evidence surrounding the Rembrandt portrait.12 Much of the information provided here is drawn from her article. Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687)—the famous Dutch diplomat, man of letters, amateur musician, and poet—was clearly in a position to have been painted by Rembrandt. [see below three pictures of this candidate]



He was in close contact with the master over a number of years, including 1633, and was Rembrandt's intermediary for many of the works that he executed for Prince Frederick Henry of Orange. Through Huygens' diaries and correspondence it is evident that he spent a substantial portion of 1633 in The Hague, where Rembrandt may also have been while painting The Elevation of the Cross. Furthermore, Edith Greindl has pointed out that it was not so unusual for Huygens, a diplomat, to have been painted with a music scroll. He was very proud of his musical accomplishments, which included the composition of more than 800 melodies, the publication of his own collection of hymns, and the ability to play a number of different instruments.13 These talents had already been highlighted in a portrait painted in 1627 by Thomas de Keyser, where Huygens was depicted with several instruments on the desk nearby.



The final and most convincing evidence, however, rests in a comparison of the physical characteristics displayed in Rembrandt's portrait with those exhibited in the many known portraits of Huygens. Not only are the eyes of the same color, brown (whereas in the known portraits of Schütz, his eyes are blue-gray), but the lips, hair, and hat are all very similar. Moreover, the sitters in the Rembrandt portrait and the Paulus Pontius engraving of Huygens dated one year earlier both wear a ring on their little finger.


One may conclude that this fine painting at the Corcoran Gallery was undoubtedly executed by Rembrandt; it does not depict Heinrich Schütz, but rather Constantijn Huygens. In this portrait Rembrandt appears to have memorialized the musical accomplishments of the public official and amateur musician with whom he had dealt on so many occasions.


5Bruno Maerker, "Rembrandts Bildnis eines Musikers—Ein Schütz-Portrait?" Deutsche Musikkultur 2 (1937-38), 329-45.

6The two other known portraits of Schütz include an engraving by Christian Romstet and a painting by an unknown German master of around 1670 housed in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.

7Otto Benesch, "Schütz and Rembrandt," Festschrift Otto Erich Deutsch, ed. Walter Gerstenberg (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1963), 12-19.

8Hans Joachim Moser, Heinrich Schütz: Sein Leben und Werk, 2nd rev. ed. (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1954), 625.

10Among the authenticated portraits of Huygens are included an engraving by Paulus Pontius after Van Dyck, which was executed in 1632; a grisaille by Jan Mauris Quinkhard, now in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum; a painting by Jan Lievens, housed in the Rijksmuseum; and a painting by Thomas de Keyser from 1627 that is in the National Gallery in London.

11Edith Greindl, "Un portrait de Constantin Huygens par Rembrandt," Apollo (March 1942), 10-11.

12Else Kai Sass, "Constantijn Huygens—The Musician," in Comments on Rembrandt's Passion Paintings and Constantijn Huygens's Iconography, by Else Kai Sass, transl. Jean Nixon and David Hohnen (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1971), 39-61.

13Greindl, pp. 10-11.