Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings
Rembrandt As An Etcher
Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, His Time
Rembrandt in Amsterdam
Rembrandt’s “Aristotle” and Other Rembrandt Studies
There are any number of good reasons for remembering Rembrandt, but certainly one which is rather irrelevant—the fact that we have ten fingers on our hands and therefore regard centenaries as round numbers. Since Rembrandt died at the age of sixty-three, an undischarged bankrupt, on October 4, 1669, the calender indicated last year that exhibitions had to be mounted and books published, not to speak of articles and radio talks asking the mock-soleman question “How do we stand with respect to Rembrandt today?” How indeed? How do we stand with respect to the Psalms, to Chartres Cathedral? Such works are more or less protected by anonymity from the dangerous institution of centenaries which not only tend to create a revulsion by surfeit but also are counterproductive of scholarship. The normal course of research depends on continuous argument; the ideas and suggestions advanced by one scholar are accepted or rejected by the next, and we all hope that in this sifting process we get a little closer to the truth. But it is rare, in the nature of things, that publications which appear in one given year can take notice of each other, and so the result is less like a dialogue than like a Babel of voices.
The present spate of Rembrandt books provides an instance which has become notorious. Invited by the Phaidon Press to bring their standard edition of Rembrandt’s paintings by A. Bredius (1935) up to date, Professor H. Gerson has not only relegated 56 out of 630 paintings to an appendix of unacceptable pictures, he has also expressed his doubts in the notes about a good many others, among them such famous works as David Playing the Harp before Saul, the proud possession of one of Europe’s most attractive galleries, the Mauritshuis in the Hague.
Ever since this famous picture—which does not have and old history—was acquired by A. Bredius in 1898…it has been hailed as one of Rembrandt’s greatest and most personal interpretations of Biblical history…. I fear that the enthusiasm has a lot to do with a taste for Biblical painting of a type that appealed specially to the Dutch public of the Jozef Israels generation rather than with the quality of the picture itself.
The allusion here is no doubt to the markedly Jewish type of the young David, which reminds the author of paintings by the famous Victorian painter of Jewish life. For it is this realistic type rather than the quality of the paint, he goes on, which has caused the enthusiasm.
The painterly execution is superficial and inconsistent: Saul’s turban is shining and variegated, and rather pedantic in treatment, in contrast with the clothing and the hand, which are painted loosely, in one monotonous tone of brownish red. All this points to an execution in Rembrandt’s studio….
The picture, we learn, has been mutilated.
This may partly help to excuse the emptiness of the curtain motive, but not the somewhat “larmoyant …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Not the Sheik April 23, 1970