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Girl at a Window

Painted in 1645 when Rembrandt was thirty-nine, the painting has always been the subject of speculation and conflicting interpretations. A frequently quoted account by the French art theorist and early owner of the work, Roger de Piles (1635-1709), of passers-by seeing it in a window and mistaking it for a real flesh and blood girl, is probably more of a general comment on Rembrandt's ability to seduce his viewers with an illusion than a strictly factual anecdote. The identity of the girl has also been shrouded in uncertainty, with suggestions including servant (the most universally accepted), family member, courtesan and historical figure. Falling somewhere between genre and portraiture, the painting remains mysterious and full of ambiguities. More than three hundred and fifty years after she was painted - Rembrandt's ability to conjure up the sense of a living being out of paint can still astound, while the warmth and humanity in the girl's unsentimental gaze continues undiminished. During the recent conservation of the painting, the discoloured varnish was carefully removed, revealing an astonishingly bold mixture of colours in the model's face that would not seem out of place in a twenty-first century portrait. Cleaning also permitted a clearer appreciation of Rembrandt's confident sweeps of the brush and thickly applied 'impasto' paint (see, for example, the smeared areas laid on around the girl's left eye and temple).

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