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Attrib­uted to Rem­brandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606-1669

Study of a West African Woman, c. 1635 

Rem­brandt, or one of his fol­low­ers, made this quick, spon­ta­neous sketch from life. It appears to be a woman of African descent car­ry­ing a live chick­en under her left arm, its head restrained with her mit­tened hand and its tail feath­ers pro­trud­ing to the rear. She prob­a­bly belonged to the small com­mu­ni­ty of free Black peo­ple who lived in Rem­brandt’s neigh­bor­hood around Joden­breestraat and worked as a domes­tic ser­vant, like­ly trans­port­ed to the Nether­lands as an enslaved per­son, but exist­ing in the gray area between forced servi­tude (which was ille­gal in Hol­land at the time) and freedom. 

The draw­ing was cut down from a larg­er sheet by a pre­vi­ous owner, per­haps Joseph van Haeck­en (1699-1749), whose col­lec­tor’s mark is stamped in the lower left corner.