Rembrandt at The Morgan

Rembrandt at The Morgan

Not surprisingly, The Morgan Library & Museum has done it again, this time by bringing Rembrandt’s “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver” to the United States for the first time ever. Painted when Rembrandt was only 23 years old, and on loan from a private collection in Great Britain, the “Judas” is recognized as the artist’s first mature work and first masterpiece. And a masterpiece it is. Museumgoers have until Sept. 18 to see why.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver,” 1629. Oil on panel. Private collection.© Private Collection (Photography courtesy The National Gallery, London, 2016)

Its narrative derived from the gospels, the 1629 painting depicts that tense moment when Judas Iscariot, racked with guilt, shame and remorse over his betrayal of Christ, returns to the high priests, hoping against hope to undo what he has done. He has flung the 30 pieces onto the floor. He wants them no more. He is on his knees; his clothes are disheveled; his hands are clasped high against his breast in penitential pleading; his gaze is wild. But the high priests ignore him, turn their backs and look away. Scorn is in every one of their facial and bodily gestures. There is no forgiveness; there can be no going back. Blood money is blood money.

Intense composition, dramatic lighting and heightened emotion—all the Rembrandt hallmarks are there. So, too, are preliminary drawings, which take viewers deep into the genesis of the work. Score another coup for The Morgan: The “Judas” is one of the few Rembrandt works for which prelims survive. To display the finished work surrounded by its drawings is another first, and the first time the sketches and finished work are together since 1629.

Also included in the exhibition are several early self-portraits (Rembrandt was a master of the selfie) as well as other scenes from the life of Christ. Items on view come from The Morgan’s own collection and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the British Library, London; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.

Added treat: On July 29 at 7 pm, the museum screens the 1936 movie “Rembrandt,” directed by Alexander Korda and starring Charles Laughton. The exhibition-related film is free with museum admission.

“Rembrandt’s First Masterpiece,” thru Sept. 18, 2016, The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Ave., at E. 36th St., 212.685.0008, www.themorgan.org