On 15 February 2019 PostNL will issue a sheet of Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseumpostage stamps. Each sheet contains five stamps and features two quintessential etchings by the 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669): Self-portrait in a Fur Cap(1630) and Self-portrait Wearing a Soft Cap(ca. 1634). The stamps are being issued to mark the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death in 2019. The Rijksmuseum is celebrating the anniversary of the artist’s death with a major exhibition that includes both self-portraits. The sheet of Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseumpostage stamps costs € 4.35. The stamps were designed by Irma Boom, a Dutch graphic designer working in Amsterdam.
In 2019 the Rijksmuseum is staging major exhibitions, talks and activities to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. Never before has the Rijksmuseum exhibited its entire collection of the artist's work: 22 paintings, 60 drawings and 300 prints. Together they offer an incomparable overview of Rembrandt as a person, what he saw around him, what fascinated him, how he constructed his narratives and how innovative he was in this respect. Rembrandt’s incisive self-portraits, the intimacy of his drawings, his ability to portray emotions and his depictions of everyday life continue to mark him out as one of the greatest artists of all time. The All the Rembrandts of the Rijksmuseum exhibition will run from 15 February to 10 June 2019. In the autumn of 2019 the Rijksmuseum will present a second exhibition that displays paintings by Velázquez, Rembrandt, Murillo, Vermeer, Zurbarán, Hals and Ribera side by side for the first time.
The two self-portraits displayed on the Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseumstamps both fill the entire area of the stamp. Three of the stamps feature Rembrandt’s Self-portrait Wearing a Soft Cap; the other two show the artist’s Self-portrait in a Fur Cap. The typography is positioned at the bottom of each stamp, with the title of the issue, in capitals, aligned left and the sorting mark alternating between left and right. The bold denomination 1 is displayed in the lower right of the portrait. The two etchings are both reproduced in dark blue. Graphic designer Irma Boom used the same colour for the explanatory text, also in capitals, above the row of stamps. The title, year and dimensions of the etchings featured on the stamps are listed between the explanatory text and the stamps themselves. The typography is set in the Rijksmuseum font created by Paul van der Laan in 2012 at Irma Boom’s request as part of the new house style developed for the reopening of the Rijksmuseum in 2013.
The Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseumpostage stamps were designed by Irma Boom, the founder and lead designer of Irma Boom Office in Amsterdam. She also designed the All the Rembrandtsexhibition. Boom: “When I came to design the postage stamps, I had already started working on the design of the All the Rembrandtsexhibition. Together with Erik Hinterding, Curator of Prints at the Rijksmuseum, I studied the originals in detail. You see so much more when you study these works with an expert. I got a better sense of Rembrandt as a man and discovered how modern he was – and still is. When you examine his work in detail, you can hardly believe your eyes. I’m fascinated by Rembrandt’s etchings. They look like loosely drawn sketches. There’s something informal and exploratory about them. Rembrandt was one of the more outspoken figures of his day, an artist who experimented. It's an approach I resonate with.”
An etching on an envelope
Boom’s fascination with Rembrandt’s prints was the reason why she chose to display etchings rather than paintings on the stamps. “Etchings also work better than paintings in the postage stamp format. The two etchings that appear on the stamps are both quite small, just 49 and 62 mm high respectively. The idea that you can stick an etching almost the size Rembrandt created it on your envelope appealed to me as a concept. The image on the stamp is a close replica of an actual work of art.”
Two different Rembrandts
Rembrandt produced hundreds of etchings and a surprising number of them are self-portraits. Why were these two particular etchings chosen? Boom: “The etching of Rembrandt wearing a soft cap could be a portrait of someone living today. I’m struck by the cheerful expression on his face: it’s not something you often see in Rembrandt’s work. The portraits were produced just four years apart, but we see two very different Rembrandts. One is a confident young man; the other is more of a nobleman.”
Add your own doodle
Boom chose a distinctive shade of blue for the self-portraits on the stamps because she wanted to give the stamps a contemporary look. “Rather than the traditional brown and black, I opted for ballpoint blue. As if you could pick up a pen and add a few lines. I think the blue is important in encouraging the viewer to see Rembrandt with fresh eyes. For the typography I used the Rijksmuseum font. This relatively modern font is part of the identity of the museum. This makes it the perfect font for this sheet of stamps. The stamps have their own identity, but the prominent denomination 1 links them to the stamps I designed for the Rijksmuseum in 2013. The design of these new postage stamps is entirely in keeping with my oeuvre. It’s a single idea executed without compromise.”
Erik Hinterding, Curator of Prints at the Rijksmuseum, was responsible for the layout of the All the Rembrandtsexhibition now showing at the museum. Hinterding: “Rembrandt completed about 300 paintings. However, people tend to forget that he produced just as many prints. He did many more etchings than other artists of his day. Etchings were an integral part of his artistry. And, as an etcher, he was a pioneer, particularly in his use of the dry-needle technique. Print makers are indebted to Rembrandt to this day.”
Affinity with the technique
It is difficult to pinpoint the reason why Rembrandt developed such a passion for etching. “It probably had something to do with his personality,” says Hinterding. “Rembrandt had a natural aptitude for the technique: he felt an affinity with it. In his etchings he practiced depicting the facial expressions and emotions he later portrayed in his paintings. Money may have been a factor, but it wouldn't have been the main consideration. An etching would allow him to run off 200 prints that he could sell for between 5 and 7 stuivers (11 and 16 euro cents) each, but a painting would easily bring in 500 guilders (225 euros).”
Hinterding is delighted with the way Irma Boom has reproduced the prints on the postage stamps. “The blue is a wonderful way of adding a modern touch. And the decision to use Rembrandt’s Self-portrait Wearing a Soft Capas the defining image of the exhibition is also inspired. In this print Rembrandt presents himself with a certain swagger. The Self-portrait in a Fur Capis a nice addition because it shows a very different side of Rembrandt.”
About the designer
Irma Boom (1960) specialises in book design. In 1991 she set up her own studio, Irma Boom Office, in Amsterdam. She was first acclaimed for the postage stamp yearbooks she created in 1987/88, which were revolutionary at the time. The SHV Think Book 1996-1896celebrating the company's centenary became a much-reproduced icon of Dutch Design. Her clients include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Royal Tichelaar pottery company and the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. In 2012 Boom designed a new logo and house style for the Rijksmuseum. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Her living archive is managed by Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam. Boom has taught at Yale University in the US since 1992. At the end of 2018 she was Artist in Residence at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, where she studied books in the Vatican Library. In 2001 she won the Gutenberg Award for her entire oeuvre, in 2012 she was presented with the Medal of Honour for Art and Science by Queen Beatrix and won the Amsterdam Award for Art, and in 2014 she won the Johannes Vermeer Award, the Netherlands’ state prize for the arts. She used the prize money to set up a library of books published the 1960s and titles published shortly after printing was invented. Irma Boom has designed postage stamps celebrating Nature and the Environment(1993), the Marshall Plan’s 50th Anniversary(1997), 550 years of the Court of Audit(1997), the connections Between two cultures(2001), Nelson Mandela’s 85th Birthday/Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund(2003), the reopening of the Rijksmuseum(2013) and Willem-Alexander’s 50th Birthday(2017).
About the curator
Erik Hinterding (1961) studied art history at Utrecht University in the 1980s. In 2001 he wrote his PhD thesis on Rembrandt as an Etcher: The practice of production and distribution (Rembrandt als etser: twee studies naar de praktijk van productie en verspreiding). In 2012 he became Curator of Prints at the Rijksmuseum, where he oversees the early print collection. His main areas of interest are Rembrandt’s etchings, pupils, contemporaries and successors, and paper and watermarks. However, his interests also extend to other parts of the collection, such as cartography and topography, popular prints and later methods of printing such as lithography. He also conducts research on the history of print collecting in general and the development of the Rijksmuseum Print Room collection in particular. In 2013 he co-authored the new seven-part catalogue raisonné of Rembrandt’s etchings, published as part of the prestigious New Hollstein series.