REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua
(b. 1723, Plympton Earl, d. 1792, London)
The Infant Samuel1776
Oil on canvas, 89 x 70 cm
Musée Fabre, Montpellier
Reynolds never tired of encouraging his students at the Royal Academy to bear in mind how important it was to study the contents and techniques of the old masters and, by copying them, to develop a style they could use. Though Reynolds himself was a highly distinctive painter, he mastered "a-la-mode" painting and could effortlessly slip into the guise of another style.
Here in his portrait of The Infant Samuel, the stylistic guise he dons is that of Rembrandt. In earthy shades of brown, he shows Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel, as a child. The very choice of theme is unusual, considering the role of Samuel as the epitome of constant obedience, great wisdom and just but firm rule, a weighty role indeed for a child of such tender age, as Reynolds shows here. By using the light and colours of Rembrandt, he also cites the profound human piety of the Dutch artist's oeuvre. In this way, the Rembrandtesque becomes a motif of dignity that not only enriches the painting and lends it profound significance, but also mediates between the religious Old Testament theme and the innocence of the child.