This impressive chalk study of a seated old man, which formed part of the collection of Johann Friedrich Städel, is one of the few drawings bearing a complete autograph signature of Rembrandt. He may have signed the work in 1633 because he wanted to make a gift of this sheet or sell it, although the drawing itself must have been made earlier. In about 1630, when Rembrandt was an up-and-coming young artist in his home town of Leiden, he drew several studies of an elderly bearded man who also turns up in paintings and prints created around the same time. The model probably must have appealed to Rembrandt because of his expressive appearance, which made him suitable for awe-inspiring figures such as prophets and apostles. The highly informal seated pose in the drawing can also be found in an early painting of Rembrandt's which has survived only in the form of a reproduction print and which shows the inebriated Lot with his daughters (Genesis 19). Shortly before God destroyed the sinful city of Sodom, he warned Lot, who fled with his family. His wife turned back out of curiosity to view the inferno and was turned into a pillar of salt. When Lot was alone with his daughters in the mountains, they feared they would no longer be unable to find husbands. They made their father drunk and, while he was unconscious, conceived children by him.
The drawing was in all likelihood created as a study for this painting. Rembrandt has sketched the figure in a long cloak, trousers and doublet. It is drawn with energetic chalk lines which indicate the incident light, the texture of the clothing and the physical presence of the seated man. He created this effect by placing darker, sharper lines over lighter areas of chalk, which he then modelled in masterful fashion to form a whole. He made a correction to the position of the right hand, which is clasping a drinking bowl. Rembrandt used his chalk quite differently when depicting the old man's head and sensitive left hand, which is hanging down. With great restraint and sensitivity, he formed the relief of the skull, which is modelled by the light, and the face with its half-bleary, half-dismayed right eye. It seems as if Rembrandt wanted to capture the moment after the event, in which Lot regains his faculties and gradually becomes aware of what has happened.
In March 1815, the Frankfurt businessman and banker Johann Friedrich Städel bequeathed his entire fortune and art collection to a foundation which was to be named after him: the 'Städelsches Kunstinstitut'. However, he also dedicated the foundation to the citizens of Frankfurt immaterially, wishing it to be an "adornment and of practical use" to Frankfurt's citizenry. He was thus the first ordinary citizen in the German-speaking region to found a public art museum: the present-day Städel Museum. When he died, his collection comprised 476 paintings, some 4,600 drawings, almost 10,000 printed graphics and valuable books.