Friday, November 15, 2019

Amsterdam Journal: Rembrandt-Velasquez: Dutch and Spanish Masters

"Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt
The Treaty of Munster signed in 1648 marked the end of the Eighty Years' War between The Netherlands and Spain. The current Rembrandt-Velasquez show at the Rijksmuseum is predicated on this detente which left the Netherlands, whose integrity had been endangered, fully intact as a Protestant country. Though the supposition of the exhibit is based on two societies, one ecclesiastical and monarchical, where artists relied on the patronage of church and state, and one representing essentially a free market, the show curiously underscores more the similarities than differences between Velasquez, Rembrandt and the other Spanish and Dutch artists under consideration. Under the rubric "Serene religious feelings, " Francisco de Zurbaran's  "The Mystic Lamb," (1635-40) with its bound lamb, a symbol of Christ's acceptance, is juxtaposed with Pieter Jansz Saenredam's "Odulphuskerk in Assendelft" (1649), which depicts a holy church space. The subject "Lost in Thought" is represented by Bartolome Esteban Murillo's "Ecce Homo" (1660-70) showing Christ crowned in thorns in contrast to Rembrandt's "Titus in a Monk's Habit" (1660) where the artist's son is depicted as a Franciscan sacrificing his life to Christ. The idea of "total surrender" is examined in the contrast between Zurbaran's "San Serapio" (1628) hanging in a Christ like pose, his arms tied, with Jan Asselijn's "The Threatened Swan" (1650) symbolically risking its life to defend its nest. Rembrandt' s "Sampling Officials of the Draper's Guild"(1662) stands beside Velasquez's "Vulcan's Forge" (1630). "An artistic challenge for every artist is to paint a large picture with a complex composition involving multiple figures," is how the curators make the connection. "With Rembrandt and Velasquez's paintings it is as if we are looking at a still image from a film... The scene comes to life, raising only a single question: what comes next?" One of Rembrandt's last self portraits in which he again undertakes his classic role playing, this time as the Apostle Paul, stands next to Velasquez's "Portrait of a man (known as the Court Jester with Books)" simply under the category "Human." Rembrandt's Titus appears again in "Titus at his lectern" (1665) in contradistinction to Jusepe de Ribera's "The Old Usurer" (1638). These two subjects are both "lost in their own worlds." Juan de Valdes Leal's "Finis Gloriae Mundi,"(1670) which depicts the end of life, and symbollically ends the show, is faced by Frans Hals'"The Regents of the Old Men's Almshouse"(1664) under the heading "Be Charitable." What can one say other than that genius knows no bounds and that fracturing of geopolitical and religious bonds apparently facilitated a golden age of art?

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