The recent discovery of a Rembrandt self portrait which had been overpainted by one of his students was a reminder that Rembrandt, established a flourishing studio enterprise in Amsterdam. Quite why Rembrandt allowed one of his students to paint over the head of the self portrait is unclear. He had several assistants his studio and he would often rework part a student’s drawing and then insist they make a copy of the reworked original – a procedure which often left his students in despair. Allowing a student to rework one of his own paintings seems to be a departure from normal studio practice.
It was once common studio practice to allow students or apprentices to complete parts of a painting. There is a famous example of the striking figure of the angel in Verrochio’s ‘Annuniation’ which was painted by the young Leonado da Vinci when he was an apprentice in Verrochio’s studio. This was unusual because students usually undertook minor features like drapery or ornament. In the Rembrandt portrait the student has reworked the head, the primary focus of the picture. Whether the reworking was done in Rembrandt’s studio or later when the painting came into the possession of another painter is a mystery.