The Rembrandt in the bathroom Sunday, Apr 25 2010 

Not really the first place you would look for an original etching: Last time, it was the kitchen, now it is (or rather: was)  the bathroom of the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. As reported by the Washington Post (and mentioned in numerous other places as well), a framed, potentially original Rembrandt etching, was discovered under a pile of junk in a bathroom twelve years ago. The print now has been confirmed to be an impression from the original plates, although it remains unclear in which year the print was made.

Judging from the photos, the print itself is not in a very pristine condition: foxing and tiny holes are witnesses of the not so optimal storage conditions this specimen had to withstand. It is quite curious that in the news coverage the print is referred to as the “mysterious Rembrandt” and nothing much is said about the etching itself . The translated french inscription “The bust of an old man with a great beard seen about most of the face…” is quoted to shed some light on the authenticity or the depicted character. Well, “a old man with a great beard” applies to a number of Rembrandt etchings, including his self portraits.  What we have here is an imprint of the plate “Old Bearded Man in a High Fur Cap”, created in 1635 (B., Holl. 290; H. 130; BB. 35-3).  The Detroit Institute of Arts web page features a nifty “zoom-in lens” of their specimen.

The etching at CUA can be seen in a small exhibition at UAC, Washington D.C., USA. There is also a short video on the history of the discovery (or should we rather say: unexpected find).

Thermal photography identifies watermarks in old prints Sunday, Oct 14 2007 

When you hold an old print or drawing in front of a light source, you can often discern an image or pattern within the paper itself – a watermark. They play an important role in identifying fakes and dating old master prints. Sometimes the writing or drawing is so dense that it renders it difficult to identify the watermark under normal light. Now a scientific team in Germany has developed a new method for identifying even poorly discernible watermarks.

The physicist Peter Meinlschmidt at the Fraunhofer-Institute for Wood Research in Germany developed a quite simple, but effective thermographic method to make watermarks clearly visible. He uses the fact that printed ink is transparent under thermal radiation. A thermal source is placed behind the drawing or print; a digital camera which is sensitive to thermal radiation shows the watermark density differences in the paper. As an example, under “normal”, visible light, the watermark in the drawing by Jan Lieven is barely visible (left). A thermal infrared picture of the same drawing shows clearly a crown watermark (right).

Jan Lieven Drawing - Watermark

Pictures from


Original oder Fälschung? (in German)