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By Shamus
on Wednesday Sep 12, 2007
Filed under:


Change of pace:

My wife sometimes does research work for an antiques appraiser. When I saw how the business worked I was sort of surprised. I thought appraisers just, you know, knew everything about old stuff and how much it’s worth. It turns out that this is not the case, and often the job is more than half detective work.

My wife is stuck on one now. It’s a toughie. The client has a painting they believe to have been produced by “Astade, the teacher of Rembrandt.” The first problem is that history records no such person. More importantly, I don’t think that’s what the signature says. Take a look:


Keeping in mind that if the client is right, then this is a signature from someone in Holland in the sixteenth century. So, we’re dealing with a proper name. Sloppily wirtten. In another language. Over four hundred years ago.

Everyone is pretty comfortable with the idea that the first letter is “A”, and the last three are “ade”. But aside from that, we can’t be sure of much. That upward trailing line on the “A” may or may not be another letter. Next is what looks like an “o”. Next is a tall vertical line, which could be several different things. (In that time period the lowercase English “s” looked like a very tall curly “f”. Early documents from the founding of the US look like they say “The Prefident of the United Statef” to modern eyes.) After that is a “c” shape, although it’s very square and not likely to be a “c” unless the painter was going for that “OCR font” style. It could indeed be a “t” as the client seems to think. So, the signature could be “A?ostade”, but it can’t be “Astade”.

There are some places online where you can search databases of known signatures. Those are quite helpful (if a little pricey) but they don’t have a wildcard search, which is what she needed. (Something like “A*ade”.) Seems like a pretty obvious feature for an application like this. But then, the most obvious feature is always the one you need right now.

Sadly, the odds of this being produced by a “teacher of Rembrandt” are low. This is about the worst thing you can be asked to do as an appraiser, to let someone know that what they have is far less valuable than what they thought. Ideally, you want to let them know that that their dusty old things are long lost treasures. “Actually, this is Da Vinci’s wastepaper basket! It’s priceless!” During your worst day as an appraiser you’ll end up telling your client, “Actually, this was painted by Harold Van Gogh in Chicago in 1931. The guy made a million others just like it trying to feed his family during the great depression. It’s worth about twenty bucks.”

Still, it’s an interesting puzzle. I am curious to see if she’ll find out who made the painting, and when. You can read a bit more over at Heather’s site.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this I came back and found someone in the comments had found the artist. A few posts later some other people offered even more evidence, and by the next morning we’d identified the artist, the name of the image (produced from an etching) and a bunch of other great info. Thanks so much to everyone who chimed in. What an interesting exercise.

I love the internet. It’s my favorite, uh… place.

UPDATED UPDATE: As to the question of how much it’s worth… I never found that out, and I imagine the exact figure is private, but based on what was said I would say we’re talking under ten thousand. One site suggested $3k for a picture produced from an etching in this time period, but the condition of the piece and the artist’s proximity to Rembrandt might impact that a bit. Still, we’re not talking about a million dollar painting here.

Comments (50)

  1. thebigkr says:

    dude, another language nonwithstanding, its the same alphabet. studying linguistics, and i can tell you, even at 400 years old, there’s no s in there. Holland just doesn’t have any odd quirks in their dialect like that. And that A? If you ask me, its just that; an A. not anything else attached. The last half is a bit sloppy, but the name looks like Aotade.

  2. Majorlag says:

    A quick guess and some googleing reveals that a dutch painter named Adriaen van Ostade in 1610-1685 signed AvOstade on at least one painting.

  3. thebigkr says:

    aoltade* my bad, typo.

  4. Mari says:

    Looks to my entirely untrained eyes like “Arostade” but what do I know? I pick my “art” up at garage sales because I like the pretty colors and the ship designs.

  5. MintSkittle says:

    That’s a toughie you got there. I’ll agree with you that ye olde S does look like F (There was this old Sherlock Holmes radio program where that came up) But the slash next to the A looks to me like it could be either an R or maybe I, and the letter next to the S/F could be R or C. Since the two don’t look alike, I doubt that they are both R’s. So I’d say you’ve got the following:
    Aroscade, Aioscade, Aiosrade. Then again, I could be way off.

  6. Rich says:

    Sometimes a character much like that “f” was used to fill a spot used by another. I have a World Atlas daily calendar that used a character like that all the time. This will have to be a cliffhanger because it’s late, that calendar is in my car and some distance away.

    May not be something quite that easy.

  7. Majorlag says:

    Speaking of Adriaen van Ostade, You can see the similarities in the signature if you zoom in on the bottom right of this:

    However, the S is not the same style.

  8. Yeah, I’d go with the Adriaen van Ostade theory (although now that any resemblence to this has been pointed out, is that now all we are able to see?) See also:
    Particularly the third piece with a close up on the signature:
    Is a different style, yes, but signatures do change…

  9. Feb says:

    The D looks really similar, though. I like Van Ostade really well for this, so far.

    You reminded me of the Cheers gag where Woody, running for a spot on city council, reads the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence overnight, and comes in talking about the “purfewt of happy-neff.”

  10. Graull says:

    I was able to find a couple of examples of van Ostade signing with the same ‘s’ as in the signature in question (look closely):



    It seems that signature is clearly meant to be van Ostade’s; whether it is genuine or not… that’s a question for an appraiser. ;)

  11. Majorlag says:

    Viewing those links, I’m pretty positive this is the guy. But I’m certainly no expert.

  12. C. says:

    according to wikipedia, “The signatures of Ostade vary at different periods, but the first two letters are generally interlaced. … Later on, he uses the long s (f), and occasionally he signs in capital letters.”

  13. Joel says:

    Hehe, wiki knows all


    Legacy Section, it has specific notes on the sig.

  14. Shamus says:

    Wow. That Adriaen van Ostade looks VERY likely to me, but I’ll see what my wife says. (And she will probably see that her boss says.)

  15. This painting was signed “Av:ostade”.

    I think that’s what you’ve got, too. The A and v are combined, and once you look you can see the colon.

  16. Smyth says:

    Volstad would be my guess. Not only because that’s what I thought of when I saw it, but because it’s a real surname.

  17. matt rundle says:

    If you’d presented that image without any explanation, I’d have assumed it was a captcha.

  18. CJG says:

    Ooh at least he was the teacher of “his own brother Isaack, Cornelis Bega, Cornelis Dusart and Richard Brakenburg.”

    That’s almost like teaching Rembrandt. Only with less oral health.

  19. Martin says:

    I’m pretty sure I found the name of the etching as well:
    РLes Deux Comm̬res (The Two Gossips)


  20. WysiWyg says:

    Just don’t you DARE forget to post an update! ;-)

  21. Allen says:

    See, I’ve always read that as an S, making it look like “Aostade”

  22. Nefke says:

    I have a relative going by the last name of ‘Van Ostade’, so that´s also what came first to my mind.

    But she´s probably not related, I think there are many going by that name here (Netherlands) ;).

  23. Lanthanide says:

    Moral of the story – if you want to be a successful antique dealer, you need to set up a website, make a comic based on a popular movie, and then post all your condundrums and let your fans sort it out.

  24. Matis says:

    Well said, young Lanthanide!…. at 4 in the AM

  25. Marty says:

    Well, the client may not have Rembrandt’s “teacher”, but they’ll probably be pretty happy that they have a work from an artist currently on display the Met.

  26. Carl the Bold says:

    Hey, im the original maker of that [painting], I posted that [painting] on [a canvas] on October 10, 2006 and then last posted it on [line]. Please remove the [image] now or state that i am the maker. Thank You

  27. Carl the Bold says:

    Just occured to me that that might have been funnier if I put in the name “von Ostade” instead of my ‘real’ name. Darn.

  28. Taelus says:

    See Shamus? Your wife doesn’t have to work so hard at all. Just post the stuff that’s annoying her on your site and those of us with *far* too much time on our hands will take care of the rest :-)

  29. Mieke says:

    As I wrote in the comments on Heather’s site too –
    I'm Dutch, and it's very common to abbreviate the “van” in a name to “v.” or just “v”, so “Adriaen van Ostade” can very easily become “A v Ostade”. Just my 2 (euro)cents.
    And if it does turn out to be truly his painting, you should probably modify the wikipedia entry to add your pic of the signature to the Legacy section. For the next person scratching their head.

  30. Mr. Son says:

    Am I the only one that thinks that the supposed ‘T’ looks more like an ‘L’ that got a line accidentally added to the top?

    Also, if it’s not an ‘L’ or a ‘T’, then ‘C’ doesn’t seem as farfetched to me as it does to you.


    If I ever start selling my art (which isn’t yet good enough to), I’ll be sure to print my signatures very carefully in case any future collectors get interested in my work.

  31. Dan says:

    Blogs brought down the Dan Rather fakes. In a very narrow scope, blogs can easily bring together a diverse group of people to brainstorm and analyze a specific document. This may not be the most scholarly method, but it can bring a lot of tangental ideas to the table which eventually contribute significantly to the final analysis.

  32. JanJaap says:

    The image posted by Skip in post #17 actually clinches it for me, because the signatures have a lot similarities.
    So are you going to let us now how much it was appraised for?

  33. Stark says:

    Actually I would argue that it IS one of the most scholarly methods. It brings together a diverse pool of knowledge that otherwise would be difficult to assemble. Here we are likley to have foljs who are experts in general pattern recognition, graphics designers, art buffs, historians, and a million other disciplines… all working on the same issue simultaneously and very rapidly sharing what they find. I’d say that’s the very definition of scholarly work!

    OH, and it’s cool to watch happen too! ;)

  34. Spawn says:

    It looks like the image from #17 isn’t just similar, it is identical. If you also look at the squiggles above and below the name, they are exactly the same. Is it the same painting?

  35. Cenobite says:

    Shamus, if you and your wife get into a gun fight and then a car chase, we may need to revisit the initial premise that there was no such person as Astade, the teacher of Rembrandt…so dark the con of man.

  36. Phlux says:

    Kind of wierd that the exact painting this person has seems to already be scanned and indexed on the internet. Looking at the signature block and at the one Skip posted, they seem to be “nearly” identical. I can’t quite tell if it is the very same picture, or if one is a reproduction. If it is, the differences are extremely subtle.

    It might just be scanning resolution or something. Also the colors are different, but it could just be a grayscale image.

  37. Heather says:

    Thanks you guys–you are great. You were right. :) My boss took a look and agreed that we now have all the info we need for the client on this particular etching.

    Now, what Shamus neglected to mention is that this is not a painting–it is an etching which is similar but not identical to an engraving” and a print is the end result of either. A print from an etching only provides about 15 or so quality prints (I am guessing from the lesser quality of the one the client has that it is one of the later etchings in the set) an engraving can provide 50 to 100 prints. So yes, this is an almost exact duplicate of the other but there were probably only about 15 of them out there before the etching became unusable.

  38. roxysteve says:

    Spawn Says:
    It looks like the image from #17 isn't just similar, it is identical. If you also look at the squiggles above and below the name, they are exactly the same. Is it the same painting?

    It seems to be the same picture. The image is, according to the original blog entry, an etching.


  39. Heather says:

    Also, this is very similar to the method appraisers have used for years–though they usually pool the knowledge of like-minded individuals–other appraisers, galleries, collectors, museums, and specialists in the area. It is why it is called research. Usually it isn’t a bunch of geeks on a comic and geek website–at least not for old master prints. :)

  40. Phlux says:

    Ah, the etching thing makes sense.

    So now the burning question on everyone’s mind: how much is the thing worth?

  41. captain says:


    Uh, well… Isn´t research exactly that? A bunch of geeks putting their heads together “whispering in hushed-up voices”. Cracking old tomes…
    Ok. We´re comic-geeks. They´re…some other sort of geek. If I think about the guy who taught me architectural theory or the prof. who hammered architectural history into my head, well, they were premium geeks. But nonetheless not so much different from what I´ve seen here :)

  42. Namfoodle says:

    I liked Carl the Bold’s input – adding a bit of “history”.

    It’s neat how quick people were able to find useful images on various museum websites.

    I’m not sure it’s safe to rely to heavily on wikipedia for something like this. You’d have to check and make sure the wiki entries were genuine. You wouldn’t want to wind up with a “martian invasion” like on Iregular Webcomic. Wasn’t really an issue in this case.

  43. Tvonah says:

    Did you see the one about the geekness of Medieval Technology? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRjVeRbhtRU
    The librarian is trying to explain the new invention of the book and using computer tech terms.

  44. Lanthanide says:

    #25 Matis – America isn’t the only country in the world you know (surprise!).

  45. Huckleberry says:

    One thing that strikes me is how close the owners were to the solution: “Astade” was the name they remembered, and “Ostade” it seems to be — just one letter off. And I’d guess that the reason they misremembered was that the first letter of the signature reads so clearly as an “A”. So sometimes, clarity can actually be deceiving ;)

  46. Lo'oris says:

    rotflmao for the captcha comment

  47. Davesnot says:

    I thought we were nerds.. not geeks.

  48. sebastian says:

    It’s Adrian Von Ostade, I have one here in my house, the letter “D” is unmistakably his .

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