Benjamin is the New Books columnist for Harper’s and the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector. He lives in the Netherlands. (June 2010)

Not Rembrandt, But…

Jan Lievens: <i>Portrait of Rembrandt</i>, circa 1629
Two large Rembrandt reproductions hung on the wall of my grandmother’s guest room. Pains had been taken to make them look authentic. They were elaborately framed and printed on an expensive polymer scuffed to suggest craquelure. The figure on the left, robed and beturbanned, looked so much like my grandmother …

Rembrandt—The Jewish Connection?

“J’aime les juifs!” Holland’s foremost painter shouts as he moves through seventeenth-century Amsterdam’s busy streets. The scene, in Charles Matton’s 1999 film Rembrandt, unwittingly recalls another, from the film of the same name made fifty-eight years before by German director Hans Steinhoff. Already well known for his Hitlerjunge Quex, about …

Pioneers

On November 27, 1833, the decrepit brig Ann, under the direction of a violent alcoholic captain, sailed out of Baltimore harbor. Aboard were several missionaries and twenty-two African-Americans who, under the sponsorship of the state of Maryland and various private philanthropists, intended to found a “virtuous commonwealth of teetotaling freeholders” …

Small Wonder

On a tranquil autumn morning in 1654, 80,000 pounds of gunpowder exploded in the middle of Delft, destroying a third of the city. The ill-fated arsenal was located just down the street from the home of Carel Fabritius, “the greatest artist that Delft or Holland ever had.” Decades later, in …

Start Spreading the News

In 1809, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty appeared under the name of Diedrich Knickerbocker, an eccentric, learned gentleman determined “to rescue from oblivion the memory of former incidents, and to render a just tribute of renown to the …

Dutch Treat

In 1578, King Sebastião I of Portugal decided to re-Christianize Morocco. The crusade would have been a dubious proposition in the best of times. This one, however, would have taken a miracle. The King was little more than a boy, and a boy so inbred that he only had four …

Saboteur in Texas

In his 1968 book of essays on Texas, In a Narrow Grave, Larry McMurtry wrote: The Texas writer who really wants to get famous has only to work up his autobiography in such a way that it will (1) explain the assassination and (2) make it possible for President Johnson …