SPEAKER: The range of the people who interested Rembrandt is remarkable. A blind fiddler guided by his dog moves slowly across the page. A man urinates in public. A woman who has no home of her own squats by the side of the road and relieves herself.
Or, a few years later, a beggar family stops at a door. The older man, who is blind, plays a musical instrument called a [? romopot. ?] And the mother extends her hand to the householder at the half door, well protected by the massive walls, and even bars, as he gives her a coin. Rembrandt carefully documents the boy's clothing, his hat and jacket, the water jug, and his stockings, one of which has fallen down. It is a quiet, even beatific moment, an act of charity, the rich and secure helping the homeless and vulnerable.
At the same time that he shows peasants and beggars and members of the class of homeless vagrants and outsiders called the [? crow, ?] he makes portraits of the power elite-- the aristocrat, Jan Six, in his study, reading, perhaps, one of his own plays, or Arnold Tholinx, the inspector of medical colleges in Amsterdam, a rather forbidding figure, with his expressionless face and dueling scar on his left cheek, or the much more congenial figure of Jan Lutma, a fellow artist, and the most prominent and successful silversmith in Amsterdam-- the extraordinary posthumous image of Jan Sylvius, a Dutch Reformed preacher, reaching out to us from beyond the grave and through this porthole, and Ephraim Bonus, a Jewish physician caught in a subtle web of lines, a shifting sea of tones of gray in this simple interior.
Although Rembrandt was a Protestant, he was fascinated by the Jews of Amsterdam. He lived near the Jewish ghetto and illustrated a book of mysticism by Menasseh Ben Israel. And he used Jews as models for his figures of Christ, an interesting attempt at historical accuracy.
But like Shakespeare, he looked at everything and was interested in everything-- a hog tied up for slaughter being made fun of by two little children, a rat catcher, a rakish figure, who not only kills rats, but keeps them as pets, if you look closely at his shoulder or the top of his basket-- here, the householder at the half door turns away in disgust-- a pancake woman surrounded by hungry children and a hungry dog, a couple making love, and nudes-- everything from a fat, overblown, naked woman grinning out at us, to a woman in profile next to a stove that you see here on the right, or a nude turning away from us into the darkness.
He is also very interested in sex, and he doesn't hesitate to show couples making love. For example, here is his famous French bed, with that extra left hand that I mentioned. The artist loved puns, and he indulges in one here-- the soft hat on the upright bedpost. A large feather on the hat, by the way, was a symbol of sexual desire in the 17th century. He also shows a monk making love in a wheat field, with what seems to be a jug of wine nearby, making the image into a vaguely anti-Catholic reference to Holy Communion, as it were.
Rembrandt is even interested in men who reject sex. And several times, he depicts the Old Testament subject of Joseph fleeing the advances of Potiphar's wife. A particularly moving work shows an old satyr pulling the bedclothes away from a luxurious sleeping nude, an etching made when Rembrandt himself was in his 50s. Interestingly, in 1936, when Picasso was also in his 50s, he, too, chose a satyr gently lifting a sheet from a sleeping woman.
Beginning in the 1640s, when he is in his mid-30s, he adds a whole new category to his repertoire-- the landscape. Who knows why he takes up this subject. Perhaps it is simply because landscape was, by far, the most popular subject of Dutch artists, and he is responding to that. The horizontal format may also have appealed to him, with the flat, Dutch landscape and high sky that hints at a new phase of Dutch art, more classical, in some ways, and less high-Baroque. Whatever the reason, he begins to take walks in the countryside around Amsterdam.
Sometimes the etchings show the familiar skyline of windmills and churches of the capital city. His most famous landscape etching juxtaposes three trees silhouetted against the sky, and the city far in the background. The sky here is especially dramatic, with slashing, straight lines of rain in the upper left, cutting across pristine towers of clouds behind them, giving way to bright, sunlit sky on the right. In the left foreground, an older couple sits and fishes. On the right, a younger man and woman make love in a bower of bushes beneath the dike.
Other landscapes are even more relaxed, and homier. A flock of sheep crowd a country road while a horse rolls in the field to the right, and trees and barns huddle close to the ground behind.
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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 5 of 9 in the Rembrandt's Etchings series.