The rats dangling from the peddler’s basket may attest to the efficacy of the poison on offer, but they’re disgusting and . . . wait a second—are they all dead? The man in the decaying but solidly built house wants these door-to-door salesmen to get lost. Rembrandt enjoyed earthy humor and delighted in the homeowner’s distress. Rembrandt also wants us to know that this poison peddler is a man with a past. He carefully detailed his patched clothing and ornate saber from some faraway military adventure. The squat assistant looks on expectantly, but the homeowner offers the callers only the back of his hand.
Image: Rembrandt, The Rat-Poison Peddler, 1632, etching. The William M. Ladd Collection, gift of Herschel V. Jones, 1916 P.1,280