The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds was meant to demonstrate Rembrandt’s unparalleled abilities as a printmaker. By the time Rembrandt first took up an etching needle the medium was already a century old, but the artist elevated etching to unprecedented heights of achievement. He was constantly experimenting with technique. Here he developed the darkest areas of the image first, creating a varied blackness from which the light-filled vignettes emerge. Virtually nothing in this elaborate scene is drawn in outline. Instead, a dense web of cross-hatching conveys volume and form. The print also speaks to Rembrandt’s gifts as a storyteller. The action is conveyed through dramatic lighting and gesture: the heavens open with a burst of putti surrounding the Dove of the Holy Spirit, while below an angel conveys the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, who react with alarm while their terrified animals scatter and fall. The figure in a hat looking directly out at the viewer recalls Rembrandt’s many self-portraits.
From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Dutch, 1606-1669
  • The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds
Date 1634
Medium etching, engraving, and drypoint printed in black ink on cream laid paper
Dimensions Sheet (trimmed to platemark): 10 5/16 × 8 5/8 inches (26.2 × 21.9 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Alan, Marianne and Marc Schwartz Fund, Graphic Arts Council Purchase Fund, Matilda R. Wilson Fund, and Josephine and Ernest Kanzler Fund
Accession Number 2001.1
Department Prints, Drawings & Photographs
Not On View
Signed Signed, in plate, lower right: Rembrandt
Marks Watermark:[Arms of Württemberg]
Oval stamp, in purple ink, lower left, verso: FELIX | SOMARY
Stamp, in purple ink, lower left, verso: MIETHKE & WAW(RA) | ANTIQUARIAT WIE(N)
Unidentified circular stamp, in black ink, lower left, verso: [see remarks]
Circular monogram stamp, in blue ink, lower left, verso: J.D. Böhm
Rectangular stamp, in blue ink, lower left, verso: J.D. Böhm
Inscriptions Inscribed, in black ink, verso: lower left, verso: J.D. Böhm
Inscribed, in faint brown ink, lower left, verso: Sigmd Bermann md D'estpes, Vienne 1833
Inscribed, in pencil, lower center, verso: D 44/III
Inscribed, in pencil, lower left and lower right corner, verso: [notations]
Unidentified monogram;
J. Sigmund Bermann (Vienna, Austria);
1865, Joseph Daniel Böhm sale, lot 613 (Vienna, Austria)
1926, Miethke & Wawra Antiquariat with Gilhofer and Ranschburg (Wien, Austria);
June 1926, Felix Somary (Zurich, Switzerland);
until 1985, heirs of Felix Somary;
1986-1999, private collection (Switzerland).
2001-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)