The "exceptionally rare" copperplate by the Dutch master was only revealed when an art expert decided to take a closer look at the painting by the Flemish artist Pieter Gysels.
After removing the Gysels from its frame and examining the copperplate behind it, Liesbeth Heenk from the Christies auction house "immediately" recognised it as a Rembrandt. Further research soon proved it to be one of only seven unsullied Rembrandt copperplates in the world.
Rembrandt's etchings were highly-prized while the painter was working. He would use the plates to make reprints when he had run out of stock of a particular print. However, other plates were often badly reworked or restored and lost their original appearance.
According to Ms Heenk, the plate is of particular interest because it has never been re-worked or restored and reveals the true mastery of Rembrandt's technique.
"This plate was used for one of the most superb of Rembrandt's etchings," said Heenk. "Of all plates known to us, this one is certainly in the best condition as it was never reworked after Rembrandt's death. The fact that Pieter Gysels made a landscape on the reverse makes the plate a very exciting historic document."
The Rembrandt plate is entitled "Abraham Entertaining the Angels". It was cut in 1656, the year Rembrandt was declared a bankrupt. His precarious financial situation may have forced him to sell the plate. It is possible Gysel bought it directly, and then painted the landscape directly onto the copper surface some time before his death in 1691.
The family of the painting's present owner, who has asked to remain anonymous, bought it in 1946 from a small antique shop. "My family have always enjoyed the painting and admired the work of the artist, but imagine my amazement when it was divulged that there was a Rembrandt original hidden on the reverse," said the owner. "I was stunned - we had no idea."
The copperplate and the picture were displayed publicly yesterday for the first time in four centuries and will be sold at auction in June. Although the new owners will have additional worries about how to insure the work, they will also have to decide how to hang the plate or painting: do they prefer Gysels or Rembrandt?Reuse content