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Rembrandt, 'A Franciscan Friar', about 1655

Key facts
Full title A Franciscan Friar
Artist Rembrandt
Artist dates 1606 - 1669
Date made about 1655
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 89 × 66.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Duke of Northumberland, 1838
Inventory number NG166
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Franciscan Friar

This man is wearing the habit of an order of monks founded to follow the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi. His pose, eyes cast down and apparently lost in thought, reflects the Franciscan way of life – one of simplicity and prayer. This may be a portrait of an individual friar, or perhaps a tronie – a popular genre of painting depicting interesting character types instead of identifiable individuals.

Rembrandt made at least four other paintings and sketches on similar Franciscan themes, an unusual subject for a Protestant painter in a city where Catholic worship was technically banned. But, despite the ban there were two thriving Franciscan churches on the street where he lived. Although they had to hold services in ‘private’, Rembrandt must have known about them, and was clearly interested in the order which had such a strong presence in his neighbourhood.

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