Lieven Willemsz. Van Coppenol, Writing-Master: the Larger Plate

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669)
Etching, drypoint, burin, State III 
plate: 13-1/8 x 11-1/8 in. (33.3 x 28.3 cm); sheet: 13-1/8 x 11-1/8 in. (33.3 x 28.3 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Art Foundation 
Accession Number:
© Norton Simon Art Foundation 
Not on View

Lieven van Coppenol (1599–after 1677), the Mennonite headmaster of the French school in Amsterdam, is one of the most colorful of Rembrandt’s portrait subjects. Following a severe mental breakdown, Coppenol was forced to give up his position as an educator. He then pursued his passion for calligraphy to the point of mania, according to contemporaries. Demonstrating a pathological vanity, Coppenol distributed examples of his writing skills to such famous poets as Joost van Vondel and Constantijn Huygens, requesting that they write a panegyric or appreciation of his calligraphy. He commissioned portrait prints of himself with ample margins below, adding the poets’ homages in his extravagant script.

Rembrandt’s largest portrait etching was commissioned during one of these campaigns. The calligrapher is seated at a desk, much like a traditional scholarly figure, holding an empty sheet of paper. The quill in his hand indicates his readiness to begin writing. Rembrandt renders the details of Coppenol’s features—an ample double chin and fine tufts of hair peeking out from his cap—with a naturalness that his subjects admired. The artist’s vivid description of Coppenol’s alert, penetrating gaze suggests a sense of the sitter’s psychology that becomes the more telling as we learn his biography.

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