A Rembrandt etching rediscovered by the president of the Catholic University of America during his search for paper towels is the focus of a new exhibit which opened at the university’s John K. Mullen of Denver Library on Monday.
The etching measures 4.5 by 5 inches and has a paper backing that is crumbly and darkened with age. It bears a French inscription saying the picture is “the bust of an old man with a great beard seen about most of the face… His head a little perched gives him… the attitude of a man who sleeps,” according to the Catholic University of America (CUA).
Msgr. David M. O’Connell, C.M., found the etching soon after he was appointed CUA’s president in 1998. In notes that are part of the exhibit, Fr. O’Connell says he discovered the piece while looking for paper towels in Nugent Hall, which serves as the president’s office.
"I went into the restroom in Nugent Hall and opened a cabinet there," his notes read. "I found the paper towels but as I was closing the cabinet door, I noticed on the bottom shelf under some junk, a picture frame jutting out. I bent down, pulled out the frame only to discover an etching that looked familiar to me. Why it was there or how it got there, I’ll never know."
Last January Fr. O’Connell showed the etching to records management archivist Leslie Knoblauch and asked to have it appraised, CUA says. Appraiser Allan Stypeck, president of Second Story Books, informed Knoblauch that the piece was authentic on Feb. 11.
“It's always really exciting as an archivist when you find something so interesting," Knoblauch commented. "The exhibit enables us to show people on campus some of the treasures at Catholic University.
Rembrandt was renowned for his etchings, which he produced with a needle and copper plates. To create etchings, a needle is used to draw on a resin-coated plate. The plate is then immersed in acid and the needle lines are cut into the plate.
Paul Wesley Bush, the doctoral student who translated the etching’s inscription, suggested an exhibit be developed around the artwork.
"It's one of those amazing stories," said the 28-year-old Bush, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in medieval history. "You hear a story about a Rembrandt lying around. It seems too good to be true. You don’t want to get your hopes up."
The exhibit, “Fine Lines: Discovering Rembrandt and Other Old Masters at Catholic University,” is located at the May Gallery in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. The exhibit is free and open to the public. It runs through May 24.
Other works displayed include two engravings of Abraham Lincoln photos taken by Civil War-era photographer Matthew Brady, a watercolor copy of a print of Hans Holbein’s Sir Thomas More portrait, two engravings by William E.C. Morgan and six woodcut prints by Julius John Lankes.