In the Dutch seventeenth century Africans were usually depicted as secondary figures: for example as enslaved individuals of figures in a Bible scene. But here Rembrandt has made them the main subject – presumably these were free men who lived in Amsterdam.
Rembrandt painted the men in very thin layers of paint. Although he depicted their faces, like the white shawl, in great detail, many other parts are only sketchily painted. The painting looks like an unfinished study, but the artist signed it: Rembrandt f 1661 – made by Rembrandt in 1661.
De Montribloud Collection, Paris, 1784; Lord Berwick, Attingham Hall, Shrewsbury, 1784; Wertheimer Gallery, London; George Donaldson Gallery, London, 1902; Abraham Bredius, The Hague, 1903-1946 (on long-term loan to the Mauritshuis since 1903); bequest of Abraham Bredius, 1946