Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)

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Rembrandt van Rijn was a Dutch painter and engraver (Leiden 1606 - Amsterdam 1669). Many of his paintings can be found in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, like The Night Watch or The Jewish Bride. He was a remarkable painter of self-portraits throughout his long career. Many of them are held in the Hague's Mauritshuis. His home, preserved as the Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam, houses many examples of his engravings. [This brief biography is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.]

Detailed Biography

Rembrandt was born in Leiden on the 15th of July 1600. It is only within the past fifty years (i.e. as of 1911) that we have come to know anything of his real history. A tissue of fables formerly represented him as ignorant, boorish and avaricious. These fictions, resting on the loose assertions of Houbraken (De Groote Schouburgh, 1718), have been cleared away by the untiring researches of Scheltema and other Dutchmen, notably by C. Vosmaer, whose elaborate work (Rembrandt, 1868, 2nd ed., 1877) is the basis of our knowledge of the man and of the chronological development of the artist. Rembrandt's high position in European art rests on the originality of his mind, the power of his imagination, his profound sympathy with his subjects, the boldness of his system of light and shade, the thoroughness of his modelling, his subtle colour, and above all on his intense humanity. He was great in conception and in execution, a poet as well as a painter, an idealist and also a realist; and this rare union is the secret of his power. From his dramatic action and mastery of expression Rembrandt has been well called "the Shakespeare of Holland."

In the beginning of the 17th century Holland had entered on her grand career of national enterprise. Science and literature flourished in her universities, poetry and the stage were favoured by her citizens, and art found a home not only in the capital but in the provincial towns. It was a time also of new ideas. Old conventional forms in religion, philosophy and art had fallen away, and liberty was inspiring new conceptions. There were no church influences at work to fetter the painter in the choice and treatment of his subject, no academies to prescribe rules. Left to himself, therefore, the artist painted the life of the people among whom he lived and the subjects which interested them. It was thus a living history that he painted scenes from the everyday life and amusements of the people, as well as the civic rulers, the "regents" or governors of the hospitals and the heads of the guilds, and the civic guards who defended their towns. So also with religious pictures. The dogmas and legends of the Church of Rome were no longer of interest to such a nation; but the Bible was read and studied with avidity, and from its page the artist drew directly the scenes of the simple narrative. Perhaps the earliest trace of this new aspect of Bible story is to be found in the pictures painted in Rome about the beginning of the 17th century by Adam Elsheimer of Frankfort, who had undoubtedly a great influence on the Dutch painters studying in Italy. These in their turn carried back to Holland the simplicity and the picturesque effect which they found in Elsheimer's work. Among these, the precursors of Rembrandt, may be mentioned Moeyaert, Ravesteyn, Lastman, Pinas, Honthorst and Bramer. Influenced doubtless by these painters, Rembrandt determined to work Out his own ideas of art on Dutch soil, resisting apparently every inducement to visit Italy. Though an admirer of the great Italian masters, he yet maintained his own individuality.

Rembrandt was born at No. 3 Weddesteg, on the rampart at Leiden overlooking the Rhine. He was the fourth son of Gerrit Harmens van Rijn, a well-to-do miller. As the older boys had been sent to trade, his parents resolved that he should enter a learned profession. With this view he was sent to the High School at Leiden; but the boy soon manifested his dislike of the prospect, and determined to be a painter. Accordingly he was placed for three years under Swanenburch, a painter of no great merit, who enjoyed some reputation from his having studied in Italy. His next master was Lastman of Amsterdam, a painter of very considerable power. In Lastman's works we can trace the germs of the colour and sentiment of his greater pupil, though his direct influence cannot have been great, as it is said by Orlers that Rembrandt remained with him only six months, after which time he returned to Leiden, about 1623. During the early years of his life at Leiden Rembrandt seems to have devoted himself entirely to studies, painting and etching the people around him, the beggars and cripples, every picturesque face and form he could get bold of. Life, character, and above all light were the aims of these studies. His mother was a frequent model, and we can trace in her features the strong likeness to her son, especially in the portraits of himself at an advanced age. In the collection of Rembrandt's works at Amsterdam in 1898 were shown three portraits of his father, who died about 1632; nine are catalogued altogether. The last portrait of his mother is that of the Vienna Museum, painted the year before her death in 1640. One of his sisters also frequently sat to him, and Bode suggests that she must have accompanied him to Amsterdam and kept house for him till he married. This conjecture rests on the number of portraits of the same young woman painted in the early years of his stay in Amsterdam and before he met his bride. Then, again, in the many portraits of himself painted in his early life we can see with what zeal he set himself to master every form of expression, now grave, now gay - how thoroughly he learned to model the human face not from the outside but from the inner man. Dr. Bode gives fifty as the number of the portraits of himself (perhaps sixty is nearer the actual number), most of them painted in youth and in old age, the times when he had leisure for such work.

Rembrandt's earliest pictures were painted at Leiden, from 1627 to 1631. Bode mentions about nine pictures as known to belong to these years, chiefly paintings of single figures, as "St Paul in Prison" and "St Jerome "; but now and then compositions of several, as "Samson in Prison" and "Presentation in the Temple." The prevailing tone of all these pictures is a greenish grey, the effect being somewhat cold and heavy. The gallery at Cassel gives us a typical example of his studies of the heads of old men, firm and hard in workmanship and full of detail, the effects of light and shade being carefully thought out. His work was now attracting the attention of lovers of art in the great city of Amsterdam; and, urged by their calls, he removed about 1631 to live and die there. At one bound he leaped into the position of the first portrait painter of the city, and received numerous commissions. During the early years of his residence there are at least forty known portraits from his hand, firm and solid in manner and staid in expression. It has been remarked that the fantasy in which he indulged through life was reserved only for the portraits of himself and his immediate connexions. The excellent painter Thomas de Keyser was then in the height of his power, and his influence is to be traced in some of Rembrandt's smaller portraits. Pupils also now flocked to his house in the Bloemgracht, among them Gerard Douw, who was nearly of his own age. The first important work executed by Rembrandt in Amsterdam is "Simeon in the Temple," of the Hague Museum, a fine early example of his treatment of light and shade and of his subtle colour. The concentrated light falls on the principal figure, while the background is full of mystery. The surface is smooth and enamel-like, and all the details are carefully wrought out, while the action of light on the mantle of Simeon shows how soon he had felt the magical effect of the play of colour. In the life-sized "Lesson in Anatomy " of 1632 we have the first of the great portrait subjects - Tulp the anatomist. the early friend of Rembrandt, discoursing to his seven associates, who are ranged with eager heads round the foreshortened body. The subject had been treated in former years by the Mierevelts, A. Pietersen and others, for the Hall of the Surgeons. But it was reserved for Rembrandt to make it a great picture by the grouping of the expressive portraits and by the completeness of the conception. The colour is quiet and the handling of the brush timid and precise, while the light and shade are somewhat harsh and abrupt. But it is a marvellous picture for a young man of twenty-five, and it is generally accepted as marking a new departure in the career of the painter.

About 700 pictures are known to have come from Rembrandt's own hand. It is impossible to notice more than the prominent works. Besides the Pellicorne family portraits of 1632 now in the Wallace Collection, we have the caligraphist Coppenol of the Cassel Gallery, interesting in the first place as an early example of Rembrandt's method of giving permanent interest to a portrait by converting it into a picture. He invests it with a sense of life by a momentary expression as Coppenol raises his head towards the spectator while he is mending a quill. The same motive is to be found in the "Shipbuilder," 1633 (Buckingham Palace), who looks up from his work with a sense of interruption at the approach of his wife. Coppenol was painted thrice and etched twice by the artist, the last of whose portrait etchings (1661) was the Coppenol of large size. The two small pictures of "The Philosopher" of the Louvre date m 1633, delicate in execution and full of mysterious effect.

The year 1634 is especially remarkable as that of Rembrandt's marriage with Saskia van Uylenborch, a beautiful, fair-haired Frisian maiden of good connexions. Till her death in 1642 she was the centre of his life and art, and lives for us in many a canvas as well as in her own portraits. On her the painter lavished his magical power, painting her as the Queen Artemisia or Bathsheba, and as the wife of Samson - always proud of her long fair locks, and covering her with pearls and gold as precious in their play of colour as those of the Indies. A joyous pair we see them in the Dresden Gallery, Saskia sitting on his knee while he laughs gaily, or promenading together in a fine picture of 1636, or putting the last touches of ornament to her toilette, for thus Bode interprets the so-called "Burgomaster Pancras and his Wife!" These were his happy days when he painted himself in his exuberant fantasy, and adorned himself, at least in his portraits, in scarfs and feathers and gold chains. Saskia brought him a marriage portion of forty thousand guilders, a large sum for those times, and she brought him also a large circle of good friends in Amsterdam. She bore him four children, Rumbartus and two girls, successively named Cornelia after his beloved mother, all of whom died in infancy, and Titus, named after Titia a sister of Saskia. We have several noble portraits of Saskia, a good type of the beauty of Holland, all painted with the utmost love and care, at Cassel (1633), at Dresden (1641), and a posthumous one (1643) at Berlin. But the greatest in workmanship and most pathetic in expression seems to us, though it is decried by Bode, that of Antwerp (1641), in which it is impossible not to trace declining health and to find a melancholy presage of her death.

One of Rembrandt's greatest portraits of 1634 is the superb fulllength of Martin Daey, which, with that of Madame Daey, painted according to Vosmaer some years later, formed one of the ornaments of the Van Loon collection at Amsterdam. Both now belong to Baron Gustave de Rothschild. From the firm detailed execution of this portrait one turns with wonder to the broader handling of the "Old Woman" (Francoise van Wasserhoven), aged eighty-three, in the National Gallery, of the same year, remarkable for the effect of reflected light and still more for the sympathetic rendering of character.

The life of Samson supplied many subjects in these early days. The so-called "Count of Gueldres threatening his Father-in-law" of the Berlin Gallery has been restored to its proper signification by M. Kolloff, who finds it to be Samson. It is forced and violent in its action. The greatest of this series, and one of the prominent pictures of Rembrandt's work, is the "Marriage of Samson," of the Dresden Gallery, painted in 1638. Here Rembrandt gives the rein to his imagination and makes the scene live before us. Except the bride (Saskia), who sits calm and grand on a dais in the centre of the feast, with the full light again playing on her flowing locks and wealth of jewels, all is animated and full of bustle. Samson, evidently a Rembrandt of fantasy, leans over a chair propounding his riddle to the Philistine lords. In execution it is a great advance on former subject pictures; it is bolder in manner, and we have here signs of his approaching love of warmer tones of red and yellow.

The story of Susannah also occupied him in these early years, and he returned to tile subject in 1641 and 1653. "The Bather" of the National Gallery may be another nterpretation of the same theme. In all of these pictures the woman is coarse in type and lumpy in form, though the modelling is soft and round, the effect which Rembrandt always strove to gain. Beauty of form was outside his art. But the so-called "Danae" (1636) at St Petersburg is a sufficient reply to those who deny his ability ever to appreciate the beauty of the nude female form. It glows with colour and life, and the blood seems to pulsate under the warm skin. In the picturesque story of Tobit Rembrandt found much to interest him, as we see in the beautiful small picture of the d'Arenberg Collection at Brussels: Sight is being restored to the aged Tobias, while with infinite tenderness his wife holds the old man's ,hand caressingly. The momentary action is complete, and the picture goes straight to the heart. In the Berlin Gallery he paints the anxiety of the parents as they wait the return of their son. In 1637 he painted the fine picture now in the Louvre of the "Flight of the Angel"; and the same subject is grandly treated by him apparently about 1645, in the picture exhibited in the winter exhibition at Burlington House in 1885. Reverence and awe are shown in every attitude of the Tobit family. A similar lofty treatment is to be found in the "Christ as the Gardener," appearing to Mary, of 1638 (Buckingham Palace).

We have now arrived at the year 1640, the threshold of his second manner, which extended to 1654, the middle age of Rembrandt. During the latter part of the previous decade we find the shadows more transparent and the blending of light and shade more perfect. There is a growing power in every part of his art. The coldness of his first manner had disappeared, and the tones were gradually changing into golden-brown. He had passed through what Bode calls his "Sturm-und-Drang" period of exaggerated expression, as in the Berlin Samson, and had attained to a truer, calmer form of dramatic expression, cf which the "Manoah" of Dresden is a good example (1641). The portraits painted "to order" became more rare about this time, and those which we have are chiefly friends of his circle, such as the "Mennonite Preacher" (C. C. Ansloo) and the "Gilder," a fine example of his golden tone, formerly in the Morny collection and now in America. His own splendid portrait (1640) in the National Gallery illustrates the change in his work. It describes the man well - strong and robust, with powerful head, firm and compressed lips and determined chin, with heavy eyebrows, separated by a deep vertical furrow, and with eyes of keen penetrating glance - altogether a self-reliant man that would carry out his own ideas, careless whether his popularity waxed or waned. The fantastic rendering of himself has disappeared; he seems more conscious of his dignity and position. He has now many friends and pupils, and nutherous commissions, even from the stadtholder; he has bought a large house in the Breedstraat, in which during the next sixteen years of his life he gathers his large collection of paintings, engravings, armour and costume which figure afterwards in his inventory. His taste was wide and his purchases large, for he was joint owner with picture-dealers of paintings by Giorgione and Palma Vecchio, while for a high-priced Marcantonio Raimondi print he gave in exchange a fine impression of his "Christ Healing the Sick," which has since been known as the "Hundred Guilder Print." The stadtholder was not a prompt payer, and an interesting correspondence took place between Rembrandt and Constantin Huygens, the poet and secretary of the prince. The Rembrandt letters which have come down to us are few, and these are therefore of importance. Rembrandt puts a high value on the picture, which he says had been painted "with much care and zeal," but he is willing to take what the prince thinks proper; while to Huygens he sends a large picture as a present for his trouble in carrying through the business. There is here no sign of the grasping greed with which he has been charged, while his unselfish conduct is seen in the settlement of the family affairs at the death of his mother in 1640.

The year 1642 is remarkable for the great picture formerly known as the "Night Watch," but now more correctly as the "Sortie of the Banning Cock Company," another of the landmarks of Rembrandt's career, in which twenty-nine life-sized civic guards are introduced issuing pell-mell from their club house. Such gilds of arquebusiers had been painted admirably before by Ravesteyn and notably by Frans Hals, but Rembrandt determined to throw life and animation into the scene, which is full of bustle and movement. The dominant colour is the citron yellow uniform of the lieutenant, wearing a blue sash, while a Titian-like rod dress of a musketeer, the black velvet dress of the captain, and the varied green of the girl and drummer, all produce a rich and harmonious effect. The background has become dark and heavy by accident or neglect, and the scutcheon on which the names are painted is scarcely to be seen. It is to he observed that, as proved by the copy by Gerrit Lundens in the National Gallery, it represents not a "night watch," except in name, but a day watch.

But this year of great achievement was also the year of his great loss, for Saskia died in 1642, leaving Rembrandt her sole trustee for her son Titus, but with full use of the money till he should marry again or till the marriage of Titus. The words of the will express her love for her husband and her confidence in him. With her death his life was changed. Bode has remarked that there is a pathetic sadness in his pictures of the Holy Family - a favourite subject at this period of his life. All of these he treats with the naïve simplicity of Reformed Holland, giving us the real carpenter's shop and the mother watching over the Infant reverently and lovingly, with a fine union of realism and idealism.

The street in which he lived was full of Dutch and Portuguese Jews, and many a Jewish rabbi sat to him. He accepted or invented their turbans and local dress as characteristic of the people. But in his religious pictures it is not the costume we look at; what strikes us is the profound perception of the sentiment of the story, making them true to all tune and independent of local circumstance. A notable example of this feeling is to be found in the "Woman Taken in Adultery" of the National Gallery, painted in 1644 in the manner of the "Simeon" of the Hague. Beyond the ordinary claims of art, it commands our attention from the grand conception of the painter who here, as in other pictures and etchings, has invested Christ with a majestic dignity which recalls Leonardo da Vinci and no other. A similar lofty ideal is to be found in his various renderings of the "Pilgrims at Emmaus," notably in the Louvre picture of I648, in which, as Mrs Jameson says, "he returns to those first spiritual principles which were always the dowry of ancient art." From the same year we have the "Good Samaritan" of the Louvre, the story of which is told with intense pathos. The helpless suffering of the wounded man, the curiosity of the boy on tiptoe, the excited faces at the upper window, are all conveyed with masterly skill. In these last two pictures we find a broader touch and freer handling, while the tones pass into a dull yellow and brown with a marked predilection for deep rich red. Whether it was that this scheme of colour found no favour with the Amsterdamers, who could not understand the "Sortie," it seems certain that Rembrandt was not invited to take any leading part in the celebration of the congress of Westphalia (1648).

Rembrandt touched no side of art without setting his mark on it, whether in still life, as in his dead birds or the "Slaughtered Ox" of the Louvre (with its repetitions at Glasgow and Budapest), or in his drawings of elephants and lions, all of which are instinct with life. But at this period of his, career we come upon a branch of his art on which he left, both in etching and in painting, the stamp of his genius, viz, landscape. Roeland Roghman, but ten years his senior, evidently influenced his style, for the resemblance between their works is so great that, as at Cassel, there has been confusion of authorship. Hercules Seghers also was much appreciated by Rembrandt, for at his sale eight pictures by this master figure in the inventory, and Vosmaer discovered that Rembrandt had worked on a plate by Seghers and had added figures to an etched "Flight into Egypt." The earliest pure landscape known to us from Rembrandt s hand is that at the Ryks Museum (1637 - 38), followed in the latter year by those at Brunswick, Cracow and Boston (U.S.A.), and that dated 1638 and belonging to Mr G. Rath in Budapest. Better known is the "Winter Scene " of Cassel (1646), silvery and delicate. As a rule in his painted landscape he aims at grandeur and poetical effect, as in the "Repose of the Holy Family" of 1647 (formerly called the "Gipsies"), a moonlight effect, clear even in the shadows. The "Canal" of Lord Lansdowne, and the "Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm," the sun shining out behind the heavy clouds, are both conceived and executed in this spirit. A similar poetical vein runs through the " Castle on the Hill" of Cassel, in which the beams of the setting sun strike on the castle while the valley is sunk in the shades of approaching night. More powerful still is the weird effect of Lord Lansdowne's "Windmill", with its glow of light and darkening shadows. In all these pictures light with its magical influences is the theme of the poet-painter. From the number of landscapes by himself in the inventory of his sale, it would appear that these grand works were not appreciated by his contemporaries. The last of the landscape series dates from 1655 or 1656, the close of the middle age or manhood of Rembrandt, a period of splendid power. In the "Joseph Accused by Potiphar's Wife " of 1654 we have great dramatic vigour and perfect mastery of expression, while the brilliant colour and glowing effect of light and shade attest his strength. To this period also belongs the great portrait of himself in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.

But evil days were at hand. The long-continued wars and civil troubles had worn out the country, and money was scarce. Rembrandt's and doubtless Saskia's means were tied up in his house and in his large collection of valuable pictures, and we find Rembrandt borrowing considerable sums of money on the security of his house to keep things going. Perhaps, as Bode suggests, this was the reason of his extraordinary activity at this time. Then, unfortunately, in this year of 1654, we find Rembrandt involved in the scandal of having a child by his servant Hendrickje Jaghers or Stoffels, as appears by the books of the Reformed Church at Amsterdam. He recognized the child and gave it the name of Cornelia, after his much-loved mother, but there is no proof that he married the mother, and the probability is against such a marriage, as the provisions of Saskia's will would in that case have come into force, and her fortune would have passed at once to her son Titus. Hendrickje seems to have continued to live with him, for we find her claiming a chest as her property at his sale in 1658. Doubtless she is the peasant girl of Rasdorf to whom Houbraken says Rembrandt was married. Sad as the story is, Hendrickje has an interest for us. Bode asserts that in his art there was always a woman in close relationship to Rembrandt and appearing in his work - his mother, his sister and then Saskia.

He also suggests that the beautiful portrait of the "Lady" in the Salon Carre of the Louvre and the "Venus and Cupid" of the same gallery may represent Hendrickje ahd her child. Both pictures belong to this date, and by their treatment are removed from the category of Rembrandt's usual portraits. But if this is conjecture, we get nearer to fact when we look at the picture exhibited at Burlington House in 1883 to which tradition has attached the name of "Rembrandt's Mistress," now in the Edinburgh National Gallery. At a glance one can see that it is not the mere head of a model, as she lies in bed raising herself to put aside a curtain as if she heard a well-known footstep. It is clearly a woman in whom Rembrandt had a personal interest. The date reads 165? - the fourth figure being illegible; but the brilliant carnations and masterly touch connect it with the "Potiphar's Wife" of 1654 and the Jaghers period. In 1656 Rembrandt's financial affairs became more involved, and the Orphans' Chamber transferred the house and ground to Titus, though Rembrandt was still allowed to take charge of Saskia's estate. Nothing, however, could avert the ruin of the painter, who was declared bankrupt in July 1656, an inventory of all his property being ordered by the Insolvency Chamber. The first sale took place in 1657 in the Keizerskroon hotel; and the second in 1658, when the larger part of the etchings and drawings were disposed of "collected by Rembrandt himself with much love and care," says the catalogue. The sum realized, under 5000 guilders, was but a fraction of their value. The time was unfavourable over the whole of Europe for such sales, the renowned collection of Charles I. of England having brought but a comparatively small sum in 1653. Driven thus from his house, stripped of everything he possessed, even to his table linen, Rembrandt took a modest lodging in the same Keizerskroon hostelry (the amounts of his bills are on record), apparently without friends and thrown entirely on himself.

But this dark year of 1656 stands out prominently as one in which some of his greatest works were produced, as, for example, "John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness," of the Berlin Gallery, and "Jacob blessing the Sons of Joseph," of the Cassel Gallery. It is impossible not to respect the man who, amid the utter ruin of his affairs, could calmly conceive and carry out such noble work. Yet even in his art one can see that the tone of his mind was sombre. Instead of the brilliancy of 1654 we have for two or three years a preference for dull yellows, reds and greys, with a certain uniformity of tone. The handling is broad and rapid, as if to give utterance to the ideas which crowded on his mind. There is less caressing of colour for its own sake, even less straining after vigorous effect of light and shade. Still the two pictures just named are among the greatest works of the master. To the same year belongs the "Lesson in Anatomy of Johann Deyman." The subject is similar to the great TuIp of 1632, but his manner and power Of colour had advanced so much that Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his visit to Holland in 1785, was reminded by it of Michelangelo and Titian. Vosmaer ascribes to the same year, though Bode places it later, the famous "Portrait of Jan Six," the future burgomaster, consummate in its ease and character, as Six descends the steps of his house drawing on his glove. The connexion between Rembrandt and the great family of Six was long and close. In 1641 the mother of Six, Anna Wymer, had been painted with consummate skill by Rembrandt, who also executed in 1647 the beautiful etching of Six standing by a window reading his tragedy of Medea, afterwards illustrated by his friend. Now he paints his portrait in the prime of manhood, and in the same year of gloom paints for him the masterly "John the Baptist." Six, if he could not avert the disaster of Rembrandt's life, at least stood by him in the darkest hour, when certainly the creative energy of Rembrandt.

This picture has had a strange history. It had suffered by fire and was sold to a Mr. Chaplin of London in 1841, was exhibited in Leeis in 1868, and again disappeared, ultimately to be found in the storeroom of the South Kensington Museum as a doubtful Rembrandt. The patriotism of some Dutch lovers of art restored it to its native country; and it now hangs, a magnificent fragment, in the museum of Amsterdam.

After the sale of the house in the Breedstraat, Rembrandt retired to the Rosengracht, an obscure quarter at the west end of the city. We are now drawing to the splendid close of his career in his third manner, in which his touch became broader, his impasto more solid and his knowledge more complete. We may mention the "Old Man with the Grey Beard" of the National Gallery (1657) and the "Bruyningh, the Secretary of the Insolvents' Chamber," of Cassel (1658), both leading up to the great portraits of the "Syndics of the Cloth Hall" of 1661. Nearly thirty years separate us from the "Lesson in Anatomy," years of long-continued observation and labour. The knowledge thus gathered, the problems solved, the mastery attained, are shown here in abundance. Rembrandt returns to the simplest gamut of colour, but shows his skill in the use of it, leaving on the spectator an impression of absolute enjoyment of the result, unconscious of the means. The plain burghers dealing with the simple concerns of their gild arrest our attention as if they were the makers of history. They live for ever; and we close our eyes to thestrange perspective of the table.

In his old age Rembrandt continued to paint his own portrait as assiduously as in his youthful and happy days. About twenty of these portraits are known; a typical one is to be found in the National Gallery. All show the same self-reliant expression, though broken down indeed by age and the cares of a hard life. About the year 1663 Rembrandt painted the (so-called) "Jewish Bride" of the Ryks Museum in Amsterdam, and the "Family Group" of Brunswick, the last and perhaps the most brilliant works of his life, bold and rapid in execution and marvellous in the subtle mixture and play of colours in which he seems to revel. The woman and children are painted with such love that the impression is conveyed that they represent a fancy family group of the painter in his old age. This idea received some confirmation from the supposed discovery that he left a widow Catherine Van Wyck and two children, but this theory falls to the ground, for de Roever has shown (Oud Holland, 1883) that Catherine was the widow of a marine painter Theunisz Blanckerhoff, who died about the same time as Rembrandt. The mistake arose from a miscopying of the register. The subject of these pictures is thus more mysterious than ever.

We must give but a short notice of Rembrandt's achievments in etching. Here he stands out by universal confession as first, excelling by his unrivalled technical skill, his mastery of expression and the lofty conceptions of many of his great pieces, as in the "Death of the Virgin," the "Christ Preaching," the "Christ Healing the Sick" (the "Hundred Guilder Print), the "Presentation to the People," the "Crucifixion" and others. So great is his skill simp,y as an etcher that one is apt to overlook the nobleness of the etcher's ideas and the depth of his nature, and this tendency has been doubtless confirmed by the enormous difference in money value between "states" of the same plate, rarity giving in many cases a factitious worth in the eyes of collectors. A single impression of one of his etchings - "Rembrandt with a Sabre" - realized £2000 at the Holford sale in 1893, when "Ephraim Bonus, with black ring" fetched £1950, and the "Hundred Guilder Print," £1750. The points of difference between these states arise from the additions and changes made by Rembrandt on the plate; and the prints taken off by him have been subjected to the closest inspection by Bartsch, Gersaint, Wilson, Daulby, De Claussin, C. Blanc, Wilishire, Seymour Haden, Middleton and others, who have described them at great length, and to whom the reader is referred. The classification of Rembrandt's etchings adopted till lately was according to the subject, as Biblical, portrait, landscape, and so on; until Vosmaer attempted the more scientific and interesting line of chronology. This method has been developed by Sir F. Seymour Haden and Middleton. But even in 1873 C. Blanc, in his fine work L'fEuvre coin plet de Rembrandt, still adheres to the older and less intelligent arrangement, resting his preference on the frequent absence of dates on the etchings and more strangely still on the equality of the work. Sir Seymour Haden's reply is "that the more important etchings which may be taken as types are dated, and that, the style of the etchings at different periods of Rembrandt's career being fully as marked as that of his paintings, no more difficulty attends the classification of one than of the other." Indeed Vosmaer points out in his Life of Rembrandt that there is a marked parallelism between Rembrandt's painted and etched work, his early work in both cases being timid and tentative, while he gradually gains strength and character both with the brush and the graver's tools.

In addition to the authors named, the reader is referred to W. Burger, (the nom de plume of T. Thore), Musees de la Hollande (1858 - 60), E. Fromentin, Maltres d'autrefois; H. Havard, L'Ecole Hollandaise; Scheltema, Rembrandt, discours sur savie (1866); Ath. Cocquerel fils, Rembrandt, son individualisme dens tart (Paris, 1869); Dr Langbehn, Rembrandt als Erzieher (Leipzig, 1890); Emile Michel, Rembrandt, sa vie, son ceuvre, et son temps (Paris, 1893); P. G. Hamerton, Rembrandt's Etchings (London, 1894); Malcolm Bell, Rembrandt van Rijn and his Work (London, 1899); Adolf Rosenberg, Rembrandt, des Mcisters Gem aide (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1906), a useful work, admirably reproducing 565 of the artist a pictures, and its companion volume, Hans Wolfgang Singer, Rembrandt, des Meisters Radierungen (Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1906), reproducing 402 etchings. The chronological, geographical and classifying indexes in both books are of particular utility. [This detailed biography is adapted from the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)]

Lecture: Baroque Art
Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
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What is Baroque art? Formally, Baroque art applies to the era in art history that dominated most of arts of the seventeenth century--the enlightenment -- or, what we call the Age of Newton. The era is differentiated from earlier periods by the currents of individualism and nationalism -- currents which are fundamentally a product of the ideas emerging as a result of the development of printing around 1450.

Before I do that let's look for a moment at what Baroque art is not. That context might help in seeing some of those qualities that are Baroque.

Leonardo's da Vinci's Virgin and Child with St. Anne
Leonardo's da Vinci Virgin and Child with St. Anne

This is Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin and Child with St. Anne. It contains all of the elements of Renaissance idealism. There's harmony and technical balance in the construction. Notice for example how the figures are grouped into a cone or pyramid. Da Vinci has pulled out all of his artistic tricks in this work: in the forms, colours, light and shade, proportions, anatomy. All of these he handles with total control. The human figure has reached a peak of idealization anatomically and aesthetically. I really love this work. And I think it is quite possible to enjoy this work whether or not you identify with the religious symbolism. And, the piece certainly has emotional content too. All renaissance art does -- but the emotional content is of a different sort from the Baroque -- on a different plane. I can see and be moved by the clear ties between the mother and child and the warm loving connection evident here, but, these connections do not remind me of the sorts of personal loving mother-child connections we know from our lives -- these are idealized.

 Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel Detail
Michaelangelo Sistine Chapel Detail

This detail of Michelangelo's familiar Adam from the Sistine chapel (above) conveys a strong message of Renaissance idealism. This moment -- the Creation shows Adam lying on a bare landscape and carries with it the very instant of creation: the whole human story is about to begin.

Leonardo da Vinci's  Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci Mona Lisa

I like to call this work proto-baroque. Leonardo's Da Vinci's La Joconde or Mona Lisa is of course Renaissance in every respect -- and the work represents a tour de force for da Vinci. It is perfect. The sfumato technique da Vinci used in this work seemed absolutely miraculous to da Vinci's contemporaries. The painting was built from gossamer thin layers of glazes so light that the entire work seemed to glow from within. Yet, as idealized and perfect as this work was -- it fascinated and fascinates still because in one important respect it is NOT renaissance. The subject here, Mona Lisa herself, is not a divine character. She is no angel. The so-called "enigmatic smile" raises questions about this woman's human psychology. What is she thinking?; what does she know?. It's as if da Vinci in having depleted all of his tricks, teases us with something new. He reveals a new dimension in art -- a dimension that will flourish during the Baroque era.

 Giorgione's Tempest (1505)
Giorgione Tempest (1505)

Da Vinci wasn't the first renaissance artist to introduce -- or tease -- with non-renaissance elements. Giorgione's idyllic scene here -- called the Tempest -- is also Renaissance in all respects except that this work is designed to convey a mood. There is an uneasy anticipation conveyed here: the idyllic is about to be overtaken by an ugly storm. The idea of creating mood in art had, until Giorgione, been a trick used by the poet, here a painter is trying to do the same thing.

Appealing to classical Greek inspiration, Renaissance painters in search of new inspiration, attempted to emulate in their paintings some of the tension and dramatic qualities discovered in late classical Greek sculpture, particularly the twisting violent figures of the Laocoon group.

 Laocoon group
Laocoon group

These 2nd century BC works were unearthed early in the 16th century and first identified by the young Michaelangelo and became the powerful source of his later inspiration. The work also provided inspiration for a mode of painting that came to known as Mannerism. Mannerism is still renaissance, but renaissance with flair.

 Parmigianino's Virgin with the Long Neck (1535)
Parmigianino Virgin with the Long Neck (1535)

This is the Mannerist result. Parmigianino's intent is to improve on the ideal through his twisting exaggerations, the elongation of the human form and overstated expressions arranged in irregular configurations.

 Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (1497)
Leonardo da Vinci Last Supper (1497)

We are all familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper -- degraded and as badly restored as it now is. It is nonetheless one of da Vinci's greatest achievements. How then could a Renaissance imitator ever improve on this? Well, by allowing other but still permissible classical conventions to enter into the work, Tintoretto did something new. This is his Last Supper -- executed a one hundred years after da Vinci's monumental achievement.

Tintoretto's Last Supper (1592)
Tintoretto Last Supper (1592).

This was probably the last Renaissance gasp. Something quite new is about to happen to the world of art -- and seems imminent in Tintoretto's work. Christ in this work is at the centre -- but the table is at an angle. The overall effect is artificial, unreal, unearthly -- notice too how the everyday mixes with the supernatural.

The work below, Bernini's David, is truly Baroque.

 Bernini's David
Bernini David

Contrast Michaelangelo's David with Bernini's. While Tintoretto's work is artificial, Bernini's is natural. Michelangelo's David represents a classical ideal but Bernini's is more recognizable. Bernini's David might might easily have played rugby. He certainly is not to be confused with the gods. This is a regular guy. The work is also more dramatic, more violent, more sensuous that the other.

The baroque was influenced by many developments and people. The counter-reformation was a major impulse in the South; in the North it was a spirit of absolutism -- an influence of Hobbes. In North and South the winds of the new sciences and new rationalism -- currents from Galileo, Harvey, Bacon, Newton and Descartes had enormous impacts on art -- not so much in the production of art with "scientific" subject, but art that reflects the importance behind the new science and rationalisms -- namely the radical break with tradition and authority the new sciences brought. Both camps were fascinated with violence -- spawned by the wars of the times. What is particularly fascinating about this new world is that both camps -- the traditional Catholic and the new enlightened spirit of rationalism responded in spades -- with neither side really a clear winner. Both produced spirited work and both currents continue to influence art right on down to the present day.

But, if there was a precise instant in time where the break with the renaissance occurred, it may have been here in this amazing work by Caravaggio painted just 6 years after Tintoretto's Last Supper.

 Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaeus (1598)
Caravaggio Supper at Emmaeus (1598)

Caravaggio broke the mold. Never before had the world seen a Christ depicted in this way: a disheveled, haloless, well-fed, beardless man sitting in a completely natural and convincing space amongst men with weather beaten faces, red noses, and torn clothing. Gone completely is the artificiality of the Tintoretto's image. Here the table is set, but the food is familiar; the apples are worm eaten. No idealist painted this image. The leaves are dying. The conversation is animated -- contentious -- the man in the foreground seems set to leap from his chair. And the chair isn't even fully in the picture. It is cut off -- and deliberately so by Caravaggio in a novel attempt to bring the action out of the picture and into our space. There is much that is new. And for viewers accustomed to renaissance convention, this image is disturbing and even subversive.

Caravaggio broke the mold. Never before had the world seen a Christ depicted in this way: a disheveled, haloless, well-fed, beardless man sitting in a completely natural and convincing space amongst men with weather beaten faces, red noses, and torn clothing. Gone completely is the artificiality of the Tintoretto's image. Here the table is set, but the food is familiar; the apples are worm eaten. No idealist painted this image. The leaves are dying. The conversation is animated -- contentious -- the man in the foreground seems set to leap from his chair. And the chair isn't even fully in the picture. It is cut off -- and deliberately so by Caravaggio in a novel attempt to bring the action out of the picture and into our space. There is much that is new. And for viewers accustomed to renaissance convention, this image is disturbing and even subversive.

Caravaggio's Death of a Virgin (1606)
Caravaggio Death of a Virgin (1606)

If Christ's image shocked, this image electrified. This is Caravaggio's Death of a Virgin. What was Caravaggio up to? Notice the theatrical use of light and shade. Light falls onto the subject from the side -- like a spotlight . Look at the despair in the figures gathered around the body. Most of the image is covered in the gloom of haunting darkness. There is little that is ideal here -- but most radical of all -- the model Caravaggio used to create his image of the dead virgin was in fact, the swollen body of a murdered prostitute just recovered from the Tiber river in Rome. There's no wonder Caravaggio's patrons got twitchy. He knew what he was up to. This is clearly political art. Caravaggio lived hard and died young.

Caravaggio's David with Head of Goliath
Caravaggio David with Head of Goliath

In fact he was dead at 36. Caravaggio's David with the head of Goliath contains Caravaggio's only self portrait -- the head here is none other than that of the artist!

Artemesia Gentileschi's Judith and Maidservant
Artemesia Gentileschi Judith and Maidservant

This is the image that launched a thousand Murder Mystery book covers in the 20th century: Gentileschi's Judith and Maidservant. It is one of a sequence of works painted by Gentileschi on this theme. The head in this image is hidden from view just after the maid stuffs it in the sack. The hushed candlelit atmosphere might seem a bit theatrical to us now, but it was quite effective in its day.

 Gentileschi Self Portrait
Artemesia Gentileschi Self Portrait

The physical similarity between the Judith in the painting and Gentileschi in her self-portrait is no coincidence. Gentieschi -- as a woman -- was not permitted to use live models as subjects -- so, she used her own body as model in many of her works.

 Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645)
Bernini Ecstasy of St. Teresa (1645)

Here is one the Baroque's most powerful religious moments: the Ecstasy of St. Teresa -- this is Bernini's attempt to capture in starkly human terms a mystical experience described by Teresa in her hand as follows: Beside me appeared an angel in bodily form. In his hands I saw a great golden spear and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed with the great love of god. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain. Though the body has some share in it--even a considerable share.


The Baroque in Spain emphasized another side of life. This is Velazquez woman cooking eggs.

Velazquez' Woman Cooking Eggs
Velazquez Woman Cooking Eggs

Velazquez like Gentileschi painted in a Caravaggio style -- brutally naturalistic particularly in his use of light and shade -- chiaroscuro -- but unlike Caravaggio, Velazquez's emphasis is on the more pleasant side of life. I enjoy the quote of Velazquez in your package: "I would rather be the first painter of common things than the second in higher art."

 Velazquez Maids of Honour (1619)
Velazquez Maids of Honour (1619)

This is one of the baroque's most admired group paintings. We have six pairs of eyes. The subject in the painting seems to be Princess Marguarita -- but is it? What is in the mirror? Who are the real subjects? Is the subject art itself? Or is it the artist?


The influence of Caravaggio is seen in this deliberately smooth, poetic and simple work by French artist Georges du Mesnilde la Tour. The work is natural and beautiful but not at all real.

 Georges du Mesnil de la Tour: New Born
Georges du Mesnil de la Tour New Born


In Catholic Flanders -- what is now the South of Holland -- realism and naturalism are combined.

Ostade: Three persons Smoking/Drinking in interior
Ostade Three persons Smoking/Drinking in interior

Also from Flanders -- and one of the most successful and wealthiest painters of the era -- if not all time was Peter Paul Rubens. This is his Garden of Love.

Rubens Garden of Love
Rubens Garden of Love

Here myth and Reality unite in an almost promiscuous tribute to life's pleasures. This extravagant, sensuous, vibrant work is pure Baroque -- I think in the sense that most people now sense what Baroque art is all about. This painting had a special meaning to Rubens -- who although 60 years, he had just married a 16 year old woman -- Rubens died just two years later.

 Rubens: Rape of the daughters of Leucippus (1616)
Rubens Rape of the daughters of Leucippus (1616)

If the Garden of Love is pure Baroque -- this is pure Rubenesque. The treatment of the mythological assault is said to have inspired two centuries of Western art. Rubens was infatuated with classical antiquity -- as well as a leading creator of religious art. His voluptuous treatment of the female form also defined a standard for female beauty that endured for many centuries. A renaissance treatment of such a scene would be far less naturalistic -- far more sculpturesque -- the subjects far more idealized -- than this airy, energetic, clearly violent treatment. The result I think is a deeper connection with the brutality involved -- and a more visceral response to the subject matter. This subject might involve a mythological event -- but it is also the sort of thing that could happen to us on the human plane. It too is a political and social statement.


The Baroque in the North of Holland took a decidedly different turn. This Protestant area was extraordinarily liberal and cosmopolitan and wealthy.

 Vermeer's Milkmaid
Vermeer Milkmaid

A healthy middle and merchant class thrived there and there developed a strong demand for art -- art created expressly for the home: interiors, still-life, landscapes and portraits -- the artist was also free to do what he or she liked -- paint first -- sell later. So in many respects Dutch art reflects the society from which it emerges.

 Vermeer's Letter
Vermeer Letter

The rooms are clear, uncluttered. The furniture is carefully chosen; the style is realistic in every detail; the overall impression is almost photographic.

This landscape -- Jewish Cemetery is by the Great Dutch Landscape painter van Ruisdal.

 Van Ruisdal's Jewish Cemetery (1655)
Van Ruisdal Jewish Cemetery (1655)

This imaginary melancholy scene formed the basis of the romantic notion of the sublime -- a hundred years later. The scene conveys the idea that nothing endures: ancient crumbling graves, a medieval ruin -- all crumble in the face of time and the elements.

Here is another dramatic and emotional landscape by Wynant.

Jan Wynant Landscape
Jan Wynant Landscape

Dutch seascapes are thematically similar to Dutch landscapes. This is Storck's Four days Battle.

 Storck's 4 days Battle
Abraham Storck Four days Battle

This image depicts a real marine battle. Storck would have been here and was hired to record the events -- as one of the first true war artists.

I will focus lastly an the greatest genius of Dutch Baroque art -- Rembrandt who was strongly influenced by Caravaggio. The artist fought fiercely for personal autonomy and always choose his own subject matter.

 Rembrandt's Anatomy Lesson
Rembrandt Anatomy Lesson

Rembrandt's Night Watch (1642)
Rembrandt Night Watch (1642)

What I find endearing about Rembrandt was his absolute refusal to cater to populist crutches. Flamboyance sells. But Rembrandt rejects flamboyance. Rembrandt has rejected the cult of beauty. He did only what he wanted to do and ignored both the critics and the winds of popular taste.

What I find endearing about Rembrandt was his absolute refusal to cater to populist crutches. Flamboyance sells. But Rembrandt rejects flamboyance. Rembrandt has rejected the cult of beauty. He did only what he wanted to do and ignored both the critics and the winds of popular taste.

Nothing grand lasts forever. The Baroque impulse had run its course -- for the time being at least. As time changes so does art. But the period immediately following the Baroque saw the development of a gratuitous style whose only virtue was being "pretty!" This style, Rococo, was associated with the reign of Louis XIV -- the Sun King. This is art that delights, but never excites.

Watteau's Homage to Love (1720)
Watteau Homage to Love (1720)

This art was intended to entertain -- and little else. No social, religious, or political messages are found or intended. Nothing this art contained would ever invade delicate sensibilities. It is gratuitous art at its frivolous best -- analagous to elevator music or a Harlequin Romance; today art from this "entertainment only" genre is available at any suburban mall. This is art that works well in hotel or motel rooms -- establishments that began to flourish for the first time in this period.

Nothing good lasts. The Baroque ended with a whimper.

Books from Alibris: Rembrandt

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