The case of mistaken identity: Carel Fabritius as his master Rembrandt

The case of mistaken identity: Carel Fabritius as his master Rembrandt

Somewhere in the annals of Art history, a Dutch master called Carel Fabritius was forgotten.

Years ago, the spotlight fell on one of his work, The Sentry (1654, Schwerin), which was then credited not to him but Rembrandt, his master whose portrait he also made, and was called A Soldier Sitting in The Gate. In fact, almost two centuries passed before the painting’s provenance as the signature of its original creator Carel Farbitius only unearthed itself on the lower left corner during a cleaning session after being brought to Paris from Schwerin by Napoleonic troops in 1807.

In another instance, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Museum Boymans recognized that it owned a self-portrait by Fabritius, originally bequeathed to the museum as, yet again by Rembrandt.

Years later, in the 21st-century, people talked of Carel Fabritius again when his masterpiece The Goldfinch adorned the cover of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch written by elusive novelist Donna Tartt.

That he died tragically and untimely in the explosion of the Delft gunpowder magazine on October 12, 1654, which destroyed a quarter of the city along with his studio and many of his paintings, has remained somewhat an introduction to his life. But he has largely been forgotten.

So, in a coincidental tribute to the belatedness that remains attached to his name and fame, one day later from his birthday which falls on 27th February, here and on the next page are some of the very few surviving works by Carl Fabritius.

A View of Delft, with a Musical Instrument Seller’s Stall. 1652. London, National Gallery.

He was the son of a schoolmaster, who is said to have been a part-time painter, and both Carel and his brother Barent became painters; both took the name Fabritius from their original trade of carpentry (Latin faber, “carpenter”). It was also in Amsterdam where Carel Fabritius in the early 1640s studied under Rembrandt and became one of his most significant and successful pupils. From about 1650 onward he worked in Delft and in 1652 entered the painters’ guild there. One of the first works definitely attributed to Fabritius is Raising of Lazarus, which is now displayed in the Gallery of Old Masters at National Museum, Warsaw.

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