The boy in the painting has often been identified as Rembrandt van Rijn's son, Titus, because his face is rendered in sensitive, intimate detail, as if depicting a beloved family member. A mysterious animal, perhaps a pet, sits on the boy's shoulder. Some experts identify it as a parrot, others, a monkey.
Rembrandt Harmenszon van Rijn, born 15 July 1606 in Leiden, was the son of a miller, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn (1568-1630), and his wife Neeltgen van Zuytbrouck (1568-1640). The youngest son of at least ten children, he left the University to study the fundamentals of painting with the Leiden artist Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburgh (1571-1638). Rembrandt was enthusiastically praised by the secretary to the Prince of Orange, Constantijn Huygens (1596-1674) who admired particularly Rembrandt's ability to convey feeling through gesture and expression.
In 1663 a plague that ravaged Amsterdam claimed the life of his lifetime companion Hendrickje Stoffels . Four years later Titus married Madgalena van Loo (1642-1669), but the following year, in 1668, he also died, the victim of another plague epidemic. When Rembrandt died on 4 October 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.
The painting, thought to be of the artist’s son, was last on view at the National Gallery more than 40 years ago. It made a brief stop there before it found its way to California after Norton Simon, the industrialist and collector who died in 1993, bought the Rembrandt at a Christie’s auction in London in 1965. The sale was considered so monumental it made the cover of Time magazine.
Not only was the price considered staggering — $2.2 million- which at the time made it the second most expensive painting ever sold. So was the bidding war that Simon fought to get the painting. When the auctioneer announced that the winning bid had come from Marlborough Fine Arts, Simon sprang to his feet and announced that he hadn’t stopped bidding. It turned out that he had given the auctioneer Peter Chance, head of Christie's, such confusing instructions that Peter Chance misunderstood Simon’s body language, thinking he had finished when he hadn’t. So the bid was reopened, and Simon bought the portrait.
There is a fantastic picture of Mr Norton Simon looking angrily at Peter Chance who had misunderstood their very confusing bidding arrangements.Those arrangements written down on a piece of paper were saying "If I stay sit I bid, if I stand I do not bid." Peter Chance said later that the furore caused by the sale of Titus was "the worst moment" of his life.