|Artist: Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch (1606 - 1669)
Year: circa 1770
Medium: Etching, Drypoint and Engraving (New Hollstein's 5th State of 7, Boon & White 3rd State - Final State)
Paper Size: 6.5 x 8.25 inches [16.51 x 20.95 cm]
Frame: 15 x 17 inches [38.1 x 43.18 cm]
Figure B270 in The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt, Edited by George
Schwartz, Dover Pub.
This is one of Rembrandt's most puzzling prints and has been the subject of debate for over three hundred years. The subject is clearly a scholar, surrounded by the tools of his trade. What is less clear is the significance of the apparition by which he is transfixed. Whilst the current title was only coined in the early 18th century, it seems fairly safe to assume that this print is based on the legendary magician and alchemist: it is known that Christopher Marlowe's Tragical History of Doctor Faustus was performed in Amsterdam about 1650. One possible explanation is that the print is meant to demonstrate that scholars, and mankind in general, no matter how keenly the search after knowledge, can only perceive the truth as if in a glass darkly - in other words indiectly and distorted. Human knowledge is limited, and it is only through Christ that we can partake of perfect knowledge hereafter. Valerius Rover later referred to the print as Doctor Faustus in 1731, a title that has generally been accepted ever since.