An Exceptional Commission

Conservation History, Treatment and Painting Technique of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen, 1634


  • Petria Noble
  • Esther van Duijn
  • Erma Hermens
  • Katrien Keune
  • Annelies van Loon
  • Susan Smelt
  • Gwen Tauber
  • Robert Erdmann



This article focuses on the conservation history and recent treatment (2016-2018) of the newly acquired pendant portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit painted by Rembrandt in 1634. Much new information is brought to light about the nineteen-fifties treatments by William Suhr in New York and Henricus Hubertus Mertens in Amsterdam, particularly their varnishing methods. An impressive array of scientific analyses gave insight into the nature of the old varnish layers that were found on top of Rembrandt’s paint layers. The recent treatment, carried out in the paintings conservation studio of the Rijksmuseum, restored much of the stunning detail and original colour contrasts in the two portraits. This consisted of removal of the 1950s varnish layers, along with (partial) reduction of a degraded and discoloured egg-white varnish. Scientific and computational analyses carried out as part of the conservation process also led to important new insights regarding the genesis of the portraits and Rembrandt’s early painting technique. Macro-x-ray fluorescence (xrf) imaging showed significant changes in the composition of the backgrounds that Rembrandt later painted over with a curtain. Novel data gained from forensic imaging analysis of the canvas supports indicate that Marten and Oopjen are painted on two lengths of canvas that were cut from the same roll; however, more research is needed to conclude whether the portraits were initially intended as one composition. High resolution imaging and scientific analyses also
reveal Rembrandt’s extraordinary skill and inventiveness, for instance in painting bobbin lace using black on top of white, and his mastery in creating subtle modulations of light and tone through unusual additions of pigments.


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Author Biographies

Petria Noble

Petria Noble is senior paintings conservator and the head of paintings conservation at the Rijksmuseum. Her projects include researching new imaging techniques for the investigation of late Rembrandt paintings.

Esther van Duijn

Esther van Duijn is a paintings conservator. Between 2015 and 2018 she carried out research into the conservation history of the Rijksmuseum’s paintings collection. This research was financed by the Luca Fonds/ Rijksmuseum Fonds.

Erma Hermens

Erma Hermens is a senior researcher of technical art history and holds the Rijksmuseum chair of studio practice and technical art history at the University of Amsterdam.

Katrien Keune

Katrien Keune has a PhD in chemistry and is a paintings research scientist at the Rijksmuseum. She is also an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Amsterdam.

Annelies van Loon

Annelies van Loon is a paintings research scientist at the Rijksmuseum. She develops and applies macroscopic and microscopic imaging techniques for the technical investigation of Old Master paintings.

Susan Smelt

Susan Smelt is a junior paintings conservator at the Rijksmuseum. This position was made possible by the Irma Theodora Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds, Philips and the Cevat Fonds/ Rijksmuseum Fonds.

Gwen Tauber

Gwen Tauber is a senior paintings conservator at the Rijksmuseum and is primarily concerned with the treatment of paintings, their examination and documentation.

Robert Erdmann

Robert Erdmann is senior scientist at the Rijksmuseum and the chair of conservation science at the University of Amsterdam. He also holds the endowed chair for the visualization of art history at Radboud University in Nijmegen.




How to Cite

Noble, Petria, Esther van Duijn, Erma Hermens, Katrien Keune, Annelies van Loon, Susan Smelt, Gwen Tauber, and Robert Erdmann. 2018. “An Exceptional Commission: Conservation History, Treatment and Painting Technique of Rembrandt’s Marten and Oopjen, 1634”. The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 66 (4):308-45.