Beggars continued to fascinate Rembrandt. After his first prints with this theme from 1627, he regularly produced new etchings for which beggars, craftsmen and other folk types modelled. The blind fiddler from 1631 is a prime example. Most of Rembrandt's prints were given their title as early as the eighteenth century, in the catalogue of E.F. Gersaint (1751). There this etching is described as ‘Aveugle, jouant du violon’. But whether the man is actually blind cannot be seen from the etching. That he is accompanied by a dog must have been the reason for this title. Dogs were not a rare sight in the seventeenth century, just as they are now, but leashed dogs were. Blind or not, this beggar earns his alms by playing the violin. He plays the instrument left-handed, which is extremely unusual, even for left-handed people. Rembrandt placed the man right-handed on the copper plate and probably did not consider the reversal after printing to be important.
‘The blind fiddler’ is one of several prints of beggars that Rembrandt made in 1631. Rembrandt may have planned to merge these into a series, following his example Jacques Callot (1592-1635). That did not happen, at least, the prints are not numbered or provided with an accompanying title. But it is striking that Rembrandt made six prints of beggars in the same year, all with comparable dimensions. These pictures also include a beggar in Polish costume, a beggar in rags and fur hat, and depictions of a man and woman urinating. There are no examples of these scabrous prints in Callot's oeuvre, but Rembrandt was copied in this by the Leiden printmaker Jan Gillisz. van Vliet, who, in addition to his prints after paintings by Rembrandt, also etched a series of beggars according to his own invention, including a man watering.
Etching, 78 x 53 mm, PK-P-103.214, gift from N.C. the Gijselaar.