FRANK ROBINSON: Hello. My name is Frank Robinson, director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. And we are in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum itself, a wonderful building designed by IM Pei in 1973 and comprising over 30,000 works of art, everything from ancient Chinese sculpture to contemporary American video.
Now, here, we will be in, during this hour, the print room of the museum, which houses over 13,000 works of art on paper, especially prints, prints meaning etchings, engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, screen prints, and other media like that. And these prints are, in general, kept in what we call solander boxes for their easy storage and safe handling. And here is one of them with some Rembrandt prints inside it.
Included in this great collection are over 30 etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn, the great 17th century Dutch painter, craftsman, and printmaker, who lived in Leiden and Amsterdam from 1606 to 1669. Rembrandt is my favorite artist. And I have published many articles and catalogs on him, beginning in 1963. He is a giant in his time and in ours.
For me, there are two reasons why it is worth our while to look at Rembrandt today. First, he is like Shakespeare, born just 42 years before Shakespeare. He is interested in everything and everybody, from Old and New Testament subjects, to scenes from ancient history, landscapes, cityscapes, animals, prominent contemporaries, and people in the street, children, Jews, blacks, the rich, the poor, and beggars, and himself. He is the archetypal self portraitist, as we see in this great self portrait etching.
The second reason why he is, I think, worth looking at is that he embodies Dutch art, Dutch culture itself. And 17th century Dutch society is remarkably similar to American society today. In the 1600s, the Netherlands had just become independent from Spain. In fact, the Dutch were still in an 80 year war of independence, ending in 1648.
So this was a new country with a relatively new language, new cities, and new prosperity. The Dutch were putting together a global commercial empire, trading silver for spices and many other commodities, and establishing trade routes that wound from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, from the Azores to South America, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, Java, China, and India. For 200 years, they were the only foreigners allowed to have any contact with Japan.
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This room celebrates the etchings of Rembrandt van Rijn, the great seventeenth-century Dutch painter, draftsman, and printmaker. His etchings, over 200 of them, have an extraordinary range of subject, from beggars and rat catchers to portraits of distinguished politicians and businessmen, from the Old and New Testaments to mythology and genre subjects, as well as many self-portraits and portraits of his family. The room also includes a demonstration of the making of an etching.
This video is part 1 of 9 in the Rembrandt's Etchings series.