In-depth Discussion: Ferdinand Bol

Ferdinand Bol Portrait of an Unknown Woman, c. 1644 Oil on canvas 42 x 36 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028835). Photo courtesy American Federation of ArtsJ910503.

Ferdinand Bol (1616–1680) was a student of Rembrandt—as you can probably tell from looking at this painting.

In the 1600s (as well as before and after), master artists had many apprentice, or assistant, artists working with them. These younger artists would learn techniques from the master, and then go on to start their own careers—a similar concept to internships today. This was the case with Bol and Rembrandt.

When Lord Iveagh bought this painting, he was told it was a Rembrandt, and it even had a signature. Later, thanks to clever conservators, it became clear that the signature was a fake. But it is easy to understand why Lord Iveagh was fooled. Bol’s style is very similar: the dark colors, muted background, and distinct features of this unknown woman are in debt to Rembrandt.

This painting is great for comparisons—not only with Rembrandt, but also because the Milwaukee Art Museum has its own painting by Ferdinand Bol in its Collection. You can find this work in Gallery 5, or view it online. Be sure to take your students to see both works by Ferdinand Bol.

Discussion Questions

  • Compare this painting to the Rembrandt in the exhibition. Look not just at the subject (person) in the painting, but also at the way the two artists painted the portraits. How are the brushstrokes similar, and how are they different? How is the person posed? What is his or her expression like?
  • Compare this painting to the Bol in the Museum’s Collection. Bol made the work in our Collection in about 1665, twenty years after the painting in the exhibition. How did his style change? What stayed the same?

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