All the Rembrandts, an exhibition of all the artist’s works they own, is currently on show until June 10, 2019 in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, one of the greatest repository of the arts in the world. A once in a lifetime experience, the display celebrates 350 years since the acclaimed artist’s death.
Without reservation or exception, the realism of works by Dutch painter and printmaker Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) has meant he continues to wield the enduring power of one. His influence on other artists during and since his time was and has been, profound. He achieved renown by being particularly interested in the rendering of space and light, shape and form and contrasts in colour, which changed according to the time of day, emphasizing the transitory nature of all things. One of the history of art’s greatest story tellers, his brushwork and treatment of line and tone alone, dazzle.
His drawings, completed as practice exercises or as studies for other works, became much loved and collected by contemporary art lovers in Rembrandt’s age and through the centuries since his success.
Born in Leiden, the son of a prosperous miller, Rembrandt trained in Amsterdam.
Returning to live in Leiden, he quickly achieved an excellent reputation as a portrait painter.
The artist’s portraits are among the first psychological studies in the history of art.
His self-portraits reveal him striving towards technical mastery, while infusing his works with his own innate sense of drama.
They were highlighted by a subtle use of chiaroscuro, a technique, which gave his subjects a soft, lifelike quality.
During the seventeenth century cities in Europe were all undergoing substantial urban renewal, setting a pattern for future living. By 1620 most countries understood the essential principles of civilized life and applied them as best they could.
Artists in Holland at the time often struggled in the midst of a huge artistic outpouring. Foreign artists were patronized by successful Dutch merchants and art lovers, who were busy filling their houses with paintings of the first rank, just as other connoisseurs and collectors were doing at the same time in Venice, Madrid and Paris.
The changes in Rembrandt’s style are remarkable when viewed, as you can with this exhibition, over his whole career. He virtually reinvented the media of portraiture, etchings and ink and wash drawings, infusing them with his own overwhelming sense of humanity and love of life.
It is a noticeable feature of his works, their physical properties were studied with almost obsessive precision and rendered with an excessive degree of exactitude, as showcased by the lacework collar on the costume of his c1639 portrait of Maria Trip.
Rembrandt is only one of the many who fought to keep his head above water by earning money on the side as well. He particularly excelled at etching, a process that involves scratching into a metal plate, which has been covered with an acid-resistant coating, then dipping the plate in acid until it mars the surface of the plate. The plate is then washed, ink is pushed into the grooves left by the acid, and finally the image is printed on paper.
Not renowned as a financial wizard, selling his etchings helped keep Rembrandt alive.
In 1642 Rembrandt produced his most wondrous work known today as The Night Watch, which really stands for its true title, ‘Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq’ (Dutch: Schutters van wijk II onder leiding van kapitein Frans Banninck Cocq).
Considered a masterpiece, when I first encountered The Night Watch following its first restoration after a knife attack in September 1975, I thought it illuminating; entirely mesmerized as I was by the artist’s vision, as well as completely captivated by his ability to realize it so eloquently.
At the time. experiencing it first hand, as I did Michelangelo’s amazing Pieta at Rome on the same visit to Europe, meant they have both stayed with me throughout my life, as being at a pinnacle of achievement in both painting and sculpture.
Now undergoing research for a second restoration to happen in the public domain, starting in July 2019, The Night Watch has been encased in a state-of-the-art clear glass chamber designed by the French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte to protect it. A digital platform will allow viewers from all over the world to follow the entire process Online.
Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum notes: ‘The Night Watch … belongs to us all, and that is why we have decided to conduct the restoration within the museum itself – everyone, wherever they are, will be able to follow the process …’
Originally commissioned by the Captain of the Kloveniers (civic militia guards) who was also the Mayor of Amsterdam at the time, Frans Banninck Cocq, The Night Watch is Rembrandt’s first and only painting of a militia group.
His bold composition captures for the first time in a portrait, figures ‘in motion’ rather than them being depicted as traditionally, in a static pose. It used to hang in the Musketeers Meeting Hall and showcases their company leaving to complete an action led by their Captain, dressed in black with a red sash and their lieutenant in yellow, the colour of victory, with a white sash. It makes you want to follow their quest.
34 characters were recorded with Rembrandt using sunlight and shade to staggering effect, leading our eye to encounter the three central characters.
It was during Rembrandt’s lifetime 3000 guilders were paid in Amsterdam for a work by German artist Hans Holbein the Younger. This meant it became worthwhile to have a copy made with deliberate fraudulent intent, and many of the forgeries found their way into rival European galleries during the nineteenth century, only detected as fakes during the twentieth when Rembrandt’s works alone shrunk from 600+ to around 300.
Other Rembrandt paintings on display range from his early self-portrait as a young man to his late self-portrait as Apostle Paul, giving an overview of his entire life in art through all its ups and downs, highs and lows.
His portrait of The Jewish Bride is indeed my favourite of all his art works. It goes beyond what we know about using paint on canvas as he depicts a couple, not in their first youth or beautiful in any classic sense, ensuring we know at once Isaac and Rebecca are in love with each other. It is so infinitely moving it permeates our soul as each gives love and receives it in return.
This is a portrait about reverence, the deepest form of respect two people can have for each other, revealing a serious desire between them to recognize each other as important in his or her own right.
They are presented in an attitude of tender humility. They do not need to look into each other’s eyes, rather they ponder the implications of their blessedness and the meaning of total commitment.
Their love is like the gold chain he’s placed around her neck, binding them together as they surrender their freedom; willingly so.
They are facing the truth we cannot have everything; for if we love, we need to choose the way we will walk together for ourselves.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019
Until June 10, 2019