Art experts have reclassified a painting of an old man as a Rembrandt after an elaborate scientific investigation revealed a portrait of the artist himself hidden underneath the visible image.

The painting Bearded Old Man was long considered to have been made by one of the Dutch master’s students.

But scanning by optical and electron microscopy and X-ray spectrometry has revealed an image underneath of a beardless,  younger male figure wearing a beret.

That portrait is similar to other self-portraits  Rembrandt van Rijn created around 1630, when he was about age 24 and enjoying some early fame as a painter.  

Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project unveiled the painting Friday at the Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam, saying the work will now be considered a work by the master himself.


The painting Bearded Old Man has been authenticated as a Rembrandt. Rembrandt House Museum

Van de Wetering said that, in addition to the underpainted image, the style and quality of the painting itself also point to its authenticity as a Rembrandt.

The painting, from a private collection, has had intense study by a team of researchers that include restorer Martin Bijl and technology professors Joris Dik of the Delft University of Technology and Koen Janssens of the University of Antwerp.

Bearded Old Man was scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Some scans determined the chemical composition and age of the paint, while others exposed the first figure to be drawn on the board.

The technology was able to photograph the outline of the Rembrandt self-portrait, which was never finished.

Rembrandt produced hundreds of paintings, etchings and drawings, however, he also had several students apprentising with him and mimicking his style.  Four works formerly attributed to his students have been reclassified as by Rembrandt since 2008.

Bearded Old Man will go on display May-July of next year at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam.