REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN
The Drunken Lot
Black chalk, partially gone over with white
Inv. No. 857
25.1 × 18.9 cm
This impressive chalk study of a seated old man from the original collection of Johann Friedrich Städel is one of the few drawings to bear Rembrandt’s complete signature in his own hand. It is thought that the work itself was executed at an earlier date, and that the artist added his signature in 1633 because he wanted to sell it or give it away. Around 1630, Rembrandt – at that time an ambitious young painter working in his native city of Leiden – drew several studies of a bearded old man who also appears in a few of his paintings and engravings of the same period. The model may have caught Rembrandt’s attention on account of his expressive appearance, which was very appropriate for such authoritative figures as prophets or apostles. The shapeless, sagging seated posture depicted in the drawing is also seen in an early painting by the artist, which has come down to us only in the form of an engraved reproduction and which shows Lot in a drunken state, attended by his daughters (Genesis 19). Just before destroying the sinful city of Sodom, God warned Lot, who managed to escape with his family. Out of curiosity, his wife looked back at the inferno and was turned into a pillar of salt. Alone in the wilderness with their father, Lot’s daughters feared they would never find husbands. They got him drunk so that, in his stupor, he would make them pregnant.
The drawing was very probably produced as a study for that painting. Dressed in a long coat, breeches and doublet, the figure of Lot was recorded with vigorous strokes of chalk which convey the incidence of the light, the texture of the clothing and the physical presence of the seated man. The artist achieved this effect by superimposing lighter, filled-in areas of chalk with darker, sharper lines, thus sculpting the body’s masses, as it were, with consummate command of the drawing medium. He made one correction to the position of the right hand, which is clasped around a drinking vessel. In his treatment of the head as well as his sensitive rendering of the old man’s limply hanging left hand, he handled the chalk quite differently. Exercising great restraint and delicacy, he formed the relief of the head and the face, again virtually modelling them with light. In view of the half dulled, half dismayed expression of the right eye, it seems that Rembrandt wanted to capture the moment after the event, when Lot is recovering his wits and slowly realizing what has happened.