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In 1679 this etching was still known as ‘The Practising Alchemist’; the title ‘Faust’ dates from the eighteenth century. Some authors believe that the etching is not of Faust, but is an illustration of I Corinthians 13:12, where St Paul speaks of seeing ‘through a glass, darkly’.

The letters INRI seen in the ball of light stand for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews): it is the text that Pilate had nailed to the Cross. The other letters form an anagram, the text of a prayer in reverse.

The letters INRI and the anagram occur in exactly the same way on a seventeenth-century amulet. The composition appears to be based on two iconographical traditions: the scholar in an interior and the saint or evangelist surprised by a vision.

 

Rembrandt, ‘Faust’, c. 1652 (Etching, drypoint and burin, The Rembrandt House Museum)

Rembrandt, ‘Faust’, c. 1652 (Etching, drypoint and burin, The Rembrandt House Museum)

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