REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Two Scholars Disputing

1628
Oil on panel, 72 x 60 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Catalogue number: Bredius 423.

This painting is a typical small-scale work of Rembrandt's Leiden period. The fact that the painting was not given a more specific title does not mean that Rembrandt had no specific subject in mind. Assuming that he intended the painting to be more than merely a genre scene, the most likely explanation is that it represents St Peter and St Paul in conversation. There were several earlier representations of this theme in art which show the two apostles as bearded scholars seated together, with one expounding a passage in a sacred book which the other holds on his knee.

Rembrandt omits the attributes by which the two apostles were traditionally identified, he relies only on their physical characteristics, as established by artistic precedent, and on what they are seen to be doing, that is earnestly discussing a text which the one (St Peter) is explaining to the other.