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This weekend I visited the exhibition “Rembrandt in Black & White”, showing many of the etchings that this Dutch artist has made during his career in the 17th century. One of these is the ‘Fluteplayer’, which is dated 1642. The etching at the exhibition came from a private collection, hence I took for this series one from a public Dutch museum, Teyler’s Museum in Haarlem [1].

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This scene looks idyllic and innocent, but Rembrandt is known to have modelled people naturalistically (he is also called “the photographer of his time”), and many times made hidden messages in his etchings and paintings. Also this scene has them: several objects have sexual connotations. Sheep and goat were supposed to be sexual active. The little bag besides the girl looks so innocent, but is a reference to the female genitalia. The owl is a sign of loose morals. The garland, on the other hand, is a symbol for virginity. The flute of the boy refers to the male genitalia, and he is postured in such a way that he tries to look under the skirt of the girl.

In between the girl and boy a shell may be seen. While this scene is positioned on land, the shell is supposedly also a land species, although this cannot be ascertained. The shell has the shape of a Helix-like species, and was likely inverted through the engraving procedure. Interestingly, this is thus the second sinistral shell in Rembrandt’s oeuvre (the most well-known is his inverted Conus shell). Is this another case where Gould’s hypothesis might be applicable?

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Finally, in the magazine that came with the exhibition, I found a column by the Rembrandt expert Prof. Ernst van de Wetering. He wondered why Rembrandt made so many etchings during the same period that he worked on several large paintings (e.g. ‘De Nachtwacht’). His hypothesis is that, while painting could only be done at daylight, Rembrandt used his long evenings at home during autumn-, winter- and springtime, to make drawings and etchings at candlelight sitting at the kitchen-table [2].

[1] TMH, inv. B 188. http://to.ly/AXZR.
[2] Wetering, E. van de, 2013. Aan de keukentafel. Rembrandt Magazine (Tentoonstelling Rembrandt in zwart-wit): 83.