Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), Reverend Johannes Elison, 1634. Oil on canvas, 174.0 x 124.5 cm (68 1/2 x 49 in.). William K. Richardson Fund, 56.510 © 2018 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The Reverend Johannes Elison was the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Norwich, England; his wife, Maria Bockenolle, is represented in the companion painting. The portraits were commissioned by their son, a wealthy Amsterdam merchant. Such life-size, full‑length portraits, a format typically associated with royal or noble patrons, were substantially more expensive than the more common bust or half‑length formats; Rembrandt painted only three full‑length pairs in his entire career. That the couple’s son could afford to commission these imposing paintings from Amsterdam’s leading portraitist says much about his social aspirations.

Inscription: Lower right: Rembrandt f 1634 

Provenance: 1634, commissioned by Johannes Elison the Younger (b. 1606 - d. 1677), Amsterdam; by inheritance to his sister, Ann Elison Dover (b. 1614 - d. 1681) and her husband, Daniel Dover (b. 1619 - d. 1702), Ludham, Norfolk, England; by descent through their daughter, Mary Dover Colby (b. 1649 - d. 1718) to the Colby family, Yarmouth, England; to Rev. Samuel Colby (b. 1781 - d. 1860), Little Ellingham Rectory, Norfolk, England [see note 1]; June 30, 1860, posthumous Colby sale, Christie, Manson and Woods, London, lots 22 and 23, sold for 1850 gns. to Fisher (dealer), London [see note 2]; 1863, sold by Fisher to Eugène Schneider (b. 1805 - d. 1875), Paris [see note 3]; April 6, 1876, Schneider sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, lots 29 and 30, bought in and sold by the estate to Schneider's son, Henri Schneider (b. 1840 - d. 1898), Paris; by descent within the family and, by 1956, sold by the Schneider family, Paris, to Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York [see note 4]; 1956, sold by Rosenberg and Stiebel to the MFA for $360,000 [see note 5]. (Accession Date: October 11, 1956)

Notes: [1] An English-language summary of the history of the portraits of Rev. Johannes Elison (b. about 1581 - d. 1639) and his wife, Maria Bockenolle (b. about 1590 - d. 1652), MFA accession nos. 56.510 and 56.511, can be found in J. Bruyn et al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings (Dordrecht, 1986), vol. 2, cat. A98, pp. 532-540 (with additional bibliography). They were commissioned by the sitters' son, Johannes Elison the Younger, in 1634, and were bequeathed by him to his siblings. The two portraits were recorded in Yarmouth as early as 1763 by Horace Walpole (see Anecdotes of Painting in England, London, 1828, p. 5), and specifically in the Colby collection by Sylas Neville; see The Diary of Sylas Neville: 1767-1788, ed. Basil Cozens-Hardy (London, 1950), pp. 176-177, entry for August 26, 1772. The provenance was first published in the 1860 Colby sale catalogue.

[2] See the Art Journal (London), August 1860, p. 247.

[3] On Schneider's acquisition of the portraits, see W. B., "Deux portraits innommés de Rembrandt," Révue Universelle des Arts 18 (1863): pp. 357-358, according to which Schneider purchased them in England. C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1916), vol. 6, p. 310, cat. no. 645, states specifically that Fisher sold them to Schneider in 1863.

[4] According to a letter from Saemy Rosenberg to Thomas Maytham of the MFA (October 24, 1956). Henri's son, Eugène Schneider (b. 1868 - d. 1942), lent the pair to the Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450-1900 (Royal Academy of Arts, London, January 4 - March 9, 1929), cat. nos. 83-84.

[5] The portraits of Rev. Elison and his wife were sold together for this price.