Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rembrandt van Rijn.

You either have it or you don't. Now don't get me wrong, talent can be learned and nurtured and in the end produce very good results. Many people have told me that my free hand drawing skills are much above normal and some have even told me to consider a profession in art. I have a great fondness for beauty and the history of art. But I know my talent and the limits that I could reach. My talent for art was not a mind bending innate gift, it was a modest pedal that after great care has bloomed into a beautiful rose.

There are some however that are born with a gift from the Lord, they are created not as a humble pedal but already as a mature bronze callas. Watching and admiring their work is like considering the design and intricate mechanics of a jumbo jet airplane engine - it is almost unfathomable that such a marvel can even be made by the hand of man. Trying to even copy such a work is impossible for us - not to mention create such masterpieces from scratch. Today we consider such a man, namely the Dutchman Rembrandt Van Rijn. Works of his life and background are numerous, one can simply google his name to acquire such material (interestingly enough art scholars have exposed the fact that many popular works on Rembrandt - especially American - are wrought with innacuracy and myth). However what intriques me so much of Rembrandt (besides his gift) is his passion. It is not rare to read about men with vision and God given talent to be plaqued by so much passion. For example read the quotes and events in the life of Napoleon, Motzart or Luther, to name but a few. Rembrandt like today's Lynch was the ultimate rebel with a very strong cause, namley the love for his craft for it's own sake, cursed be the critics. This is what ultimately is the staple of a man, his passion for his love, the quest for truth at no matter what the cause. The earliest sources of Rembrandt said he had no regard for "the rules" and regurlarly broke them. One source recalls the time when Rembrandt was completing painting a scene replete with family members only to be told that his monkey died. Racked with pain he added the ape to the scene enfuriating the family - Rembrandt however transfixed on how beautiful the animal looked in the painting thought nothing of it to keep the ape and lose the people's money.

Rembrandt far from being a "few hits wonder" was a prodigious worker. Several thousand works have been found and many scholars still believe more are to be found in stuffy and long forgotten storerooms. Let us now consider but a few works from the hand of Rembrandt.

Paintings. This work displaying a scene from the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah is breathtaking. Quickly one notices the dreaded form that is peering from behind a curtain. His nefarious form is magnified in dark shades and his jest is unmistakably Rembrandtian, almost comically juxtaposed with the darkest of intentions. Delilah caresses the hair of Samson all the while flagging down the perpetrator that is to end the power of Samson. Again I find a dialectic here. It is hard to know if she is heartbroken by the event or if she dawns a mask for the audience - meant to trick us. This detail is strong and manifestly meant by Rembrandt to catch our minds. How can one miss the interplay of light and shadow between the dress of Delilah and the robe of Samson? Has such interplay been done better by any other artist we ask ourselves? This work displaying the Apostle Paul no doubt wrestling with some deep Theological doctrine is testimony to the flawless mastery of the human form that Rembrandt displays. To be sure the real Paul looked nothing like this Greco-Roman archetype (much more likely a lot more Jewish and as church history tells us was very 'humble' / ugly in appearance). Nonethless Rembrandt toys with our heirarchy of what true art is by crushing our definition of it. Rembrandt never pulls any punches and paints humans as they are, ugly and full of deep traumas. Consider the effortless flow of earthy colors, the entire painting seems as if it is one color that is spreading outward, transforming the hues slightly this way or that. This is another example of a trademark of Rembrandt, namley the mastery of human expression. Most notably striking is the face of Jesus and face of Lazarus as he is resurrected from the dead. Another thing grabs me here, notice the rough strokes on the coffin of the dead man. In many of Rembrandt's works he is reprimanded for his so-called sloppiness. To the feeble mind it would seem so. On the contrary, when one is so drunk with passions and laden with talent, these blurbs are not accidental at all but on a plane so high above that of the average man - that we cannot really comprehend the logic behind it. We can deride it to be sure but we do so at our own demise. Such blunt talent and raw energy punishes our sensabilities, the only thing we can do is flail our arms and wag our tongues. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and if true a commentary on this work from Rembrandt cannot be contained in an entire library. Where do I begin? Well, consider the face of our heroine - so typically Rembrandtian transcending all established rules of beauty. Instead of some unnatural face resembling a Roman Goddess, we have a pig farmer with a double chin. Next consider the utter mastery of the colors, it is almost indescribable in finess. The shield if it was to be drawn and painted alone would be a masterpiece in itself. The light bending nuance and interplay of shadow over the gorgons face is gorgeous. I guess with all my practice and almost three decades in training of free hand drawing I could not even free hand the shield not to mention blend the oil's to paint it. Such dominance over art that Rembrandt displays here is surely not of this world and cannot under any circumstance be learned. This is one of the piece's that I believe shows most the epitome and essence of Rembrandt's personality. It exposes the juxtaposition and dialectic that Rembrandt found himself in. An artist that was far, far ahead of his time - bound by the traditions of his era, namely biblical imagery. Only the best artists could even officially paint and be paid for biblical imagery. However, here you can see the modernity if you want to name it so, of Rembrandt. The rough strokes and quick stikes of the brush surely offended many back then, perhaps to the point to call it heresy. Today we know better and can all it what it is, a master playing with his subjects unbound by the so-called rules of the time in his genre. Here Rembrandt paints for Rembrandt, he cares not if you like or can appreciate his work. This is a man at the very top of his aesthetic artform, such people (such as todays David Lynch in cinematography) walk to a beat of their own drum, a haunting melody that the average man cannot hear, not to mention appreciate. Not even God is exempt from the hand of Rembrandt. Far from displaying the Saviour in glorified terms, surrounded by seraphim and cherubim, Rembrandt shows us Jesus in purely human terms. To be sure Christ looked nothing like this (a lot more Jewish) but that is not the point. Rembrandt cannot help to be Rembrandt and paints Jesus to his own pleasure. One cannot help but to stare in amazement at this piece by Rembrandt. It is almost to colossal to describe adequately in words. What grabs you by the neck and chokes the very breath out of you here is the force between the interply of light and dark, black and white. This toying with our senses almost blinds us of the true perfection contained within. Consider the pathos in the face of Aristotle as he contemplates the face of Homer. The delicacy of Aristotles robes, the philosopher stands frozen in time, etched in the very walls of our minds. This work of St. Peter denying Christ is another work which I love, wherein Rembrandt is working free reign, unbound by conventions or trivialities. Painted later in life (1660) here Rembrandt is at the zenith of his talent. I once heard a laymen comment on this work - claiming that the picture is obviously not finished, the bottom edges rough and uneven. Anyone that knows Rembrandt would disagree in the strongest terms. Again this is another example of a master at the top of his profession, completely in control of his work to the smallest minutiae. There is no accidents or errors or uncompletion in Rembrandt. Every stroke of the brush, every interplay of shadows and light is geared to a final aim, namley a perfect work. Perhaps Rembrandts most controversial work which forever established him as a rebel, a law on to himself, unfettered, undiminished, unwavering - caring not for any limits in his field of work, getting to the essence and kernel of history through art. Rembrandt here was commissioned to paint an event which marked the establishment and foundation of a country. It would be akin to a painter setting the scene of the signing of the declaration of independance. Rembrandt however late in life here and at the top of his game, cannot fight the powers that drive him and surrenders once again to this nature. Instead of divine like imagery full of patriotism and glory, we find instead mercenaries, vagabonds, a veritable rabble - swearing a dark pact to a monster of a man, deformed, war scarred with one eye from some battle. The impact of such a statement is incredible. It would be the same if some painter showed the signing of the declaration in the midst of utter turmoil with the fathers fighting amongst themselves, deformed in the ugliest gestures - shameful postures, perhaps a homosexual in the bunch, a few fist fighting in the backdrop, the complete anti-american scene. This scene of Simon craddling the baby Jesus painted in the last year of Rembrandts life, represents the very best, the physical manifestation of his work. Instead of utter refinement, we find a coarse work, seemingly haphazard. Again this is Rembrandt being himself, uncontrolled and surely not caring what others would think. Without doubt on the completion of this work Rembrandt smiled and warmed up to this painting - as a mother would to her baby, or even as Simon warmed up to baby Jesus. The expression of Simon here is priceless and human. It almost looks as here Simon as Rembrandt both late in life, suffered from some stroke. Regardless Simon moans in love with the child, praising God. A gift from the Lord no doubt, something Rembrandt in the twilight of his life knew all to well. His talent in the end was perhaps too much for Rembrandt to handle. Perhaps small twinges of madness have made a foothold in the old masters mind. Instead of tapering his inner demons he let them roam free, all to free, so much so that they controlled his paintings.

Self portraits.

Perhaps more than any other major artist, Rembrandt painted himself quite frequently. A large portion of art scholars believe it was due to Rembrandt's self vanity. I however believe that this is an over simplification. Rembrandt everywhere rejects the vain forms of imagery and displays people as they are, warts, scars and all. I think what's going on is that Rembrandt is fascinated by the human form and what is more fascinating that drawing one self? It is manifest that he is not a handsome man and he shows us this by depicting himself in the most rudimentary fashion. Fascination and vanity are different in degrees and ontology. There is however no utter seperation between the two, to be sure, there is a bit of one in the other but it is too simple to shrug it off as pure vanity. This is a very strange piece. At the tender age of 23 already he shows domination of his field - a master of oil painting on wood (which is hundreds of times more difficult than simply mastering free hand drawing). Here we are exposed to a funny little gnome of a man, almost something out of mythical legend. His stance is typical pathos, staring at some work he has just completed - for it shines in majesty. Another more detailed work at the age of 23. Here he displays himself more reagle, almost as a young dignitary, a wild mane and the stare of a young conqueror. His distinguishible nose and prose tells us as a young man he still held some semblance of conformity. This is perhaps my favorite piece from Rembrandt. Here he is 24 and displaying himself in an incredible wide-eyed scowl. Psychoanalysts could have a field day with this one. What is most astonishing is that this work is an etching. Rembrandt shows his mastery of yet another discipline in art. Why display yourself as a beggar? Why so ugly? Surely at 24 this is an exaggeration? Perhaps it's not. Nay, most likely it's not knowing the tranchent stubborness for his love of realism. Time is kind to no man and especially in the past people aged fast and hard. At 27, hairline a bit receding, gaining a bit of weight and wrinkles forming on the forehead Rembrandt hides none of it and opts to display himself in the realist of terms. Another of my favorites showing Rembrandt at 30 and his love saskia. An incredibly complex and beautiful work at the age of 52. Another of my favorite Rembrandt pieces where he lets loose the power of his strokes and is modern to the utmost. Age 53. Again like so many of his older works, he knows nothing and cares none for convention. At 56 he shows himself almost as a decrepit old man. Age bowls him over yet he manages to laugh at time. Pushing 60 he is apperantly still robust and completely in charge of his studio. I love the hard strokes and the almost blurring of the utensils he holds.

Free hand drawings.

I absolutely love good free hand drawing. What would we expect from a master painter other than remarkable expressions of free hand? Complete mastery. A mixture of the free and loosness and at the same time a zoom of the old man's face and detail and perfection. His love Saskia. Raw, unmitigated talent. Another of my favorite Rembrandt pieces. The wild strokes and mastery of his art is so blatant here it hurts. Effortless mastery of detail and vision.

And so concludes a small portion and introduction to Rembrandt.

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