The Question

This essay is based on a question from Test Three in the Official Guide to the TOEFL. I can’t provide the lecture and reading here but I highly recommend that you buy a copy of the book for yourself.

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The Sample Essay

             The reading and the lecture are about a painting called “Portrait of an Elderly Woman in a White Bonnet.  The author of the reading believes that the painting was not done by the Rembrandt.  The lecturer casts doubts on the claims made in the article.  She thinks that it was, in fact, painted by Rembrandt.

            First of all, the author claims that the woman’s outfit is inconsistent, as it pairs a servant’s cap with a luxurious coat and fur collar.  It is pointed out that Rembrandt would not have made such a mistake, as he paid very careful attention to detail.  This argument is challenged by the lecturer.  She says that the woman’s fur collar was added to the painting by another artist at a later date.  She asserts that this was likely done to increase the value of the painting.

            Secondly, the author states that the depiction of light and shadow in the portrait is poorly done.  He argues that Rembrandt was a master of light and shadow, and would not have made the mistakes which are seen in this particular painting.  This argument is rebutted in the lecture.  The lecturer observes that when the aforementioned fur collar is removed, no mistakes with light and shadow remain.  She notes that the original version of the painting is up to Rembrandt’s usual standards.

            Finally, the author mentions that the portrait was painted on a series of panels which were glued together.  It is noted that while Rembrandt often painted on wood panels, there is no evidence that he ever used panels that were glued together in such a fashion.  The lecturer casts doubt on this by arguing that the wood panel was expanded many years after the painting was originally done.  She puts forth the idea that  this is evidence that the painting was originally completed on just a single panel like other works by Rembrandt, and that the panel came from the same tree used to make panels for his other works.

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