Rembrandt van Rijn (?)
(Leiden, 1606-1669, Amsterdam)
Still Life with Bittern and a Girl
Oil on canvas, 120 x 91.5 cm
Inscribed lower left: Rembrandt f. 163(?)

It is not easy to discern the setting here. Above right, a window – are we looking into a larder? A girl leans over planking: is she on the landing of a stairway? But how does the planking end on the right, and how far out is it from the rear wall? And where is the girl looking? Or is she only dreaming? Where does the light come from that falls on her? In her right hand she is holding a dead snipe, from the ceiling, right, hangs a bittern. Under it is a table on which are a copper kettle and a game-bag. A gun runs across the picture (where is it leaning?), Is this a hunting piece, then? Or, owing to the girl, is it not also a kitchen piece, in the South Netherlands tradition? Both a still life – and a genre picture? Moreover, cannot the picture also have a profounder meaning, being, as it is, secretive, severely composed and heraldically articulated? Does it not also speak symbolically of the end and the beginning of life? All the more threatening, then, is the impression made by the glistening black gun barrel. We have two or three other pictures with dead game birds by Rembrandt; they all come, probably not by chance, from the same year as this painting. In the inventory taken of Rembrandt’s entire property in 1656 owing to his insolvency, there also appears "Een pitoor (= bittern) nae ’t leven, van Rembrant" – was it this picture? H. Gerson (1969) doubts the authenticity of the signature and suspects that the picture is "of the school of Rembrandt" - an assumption which is generally accepted today.