LISA PINCUS: Hello. I'm Lisa Pincus, Visiting Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Visual Studies-- Art History and Visual Studies here at Cornell. And I've been asked to have a brief kickoff to our afternoon session, which I'm really pleased to do. I took it quite literally when I was told to be brief. So don't blink.
I'm deeply honored to take part and to be part of the symposium in Rembrandt's etchings. And I wish to thank Andy Weislogel and Andaleeb Banta for including me here.
In studying this truly extraordinary exhibition, I felt confirmed in both my hunch that one studies but doesn't master Rembrandt. And in my habit of approaching his work through close looking-- this is not by Rembrandt.
I sketched my remarks today more as a series of questions or observations than as a set of answers. This one print in particular pulled at my attention for its simultaneous moves toward and away from us as viewers, for its play with convention of creature portraits, for some details that resist resolution, and finally for its remarkable, authorial insertion.
In making my way around this Rembrandt print, I depended upon the insightful work of Stephanie Dickey who I hope doesn't mind my mining her mind. Dickey informs us, among many other things, that in all probability, both Rembrandt and the sitter collaborated on the four images Rembrandt produced of the lay Mennonite preacher. Of the four, I believe the etching to do the most complex.
I will not comment on these. But these are preparatory drawings and the painting. And Dickey believes that the painting and the etching were probably pretty concurrently, or in progress, or the etching slightly after the painting.
I put this in here just to talk about this very famous hand-- the so-called "speaking hand of rhetoric". And it's that coinage that I take from Stephanie Dickey-- the hand of rhetoric, the hand showing action, speech in oratory. Rembrandt likes it. And he uses it more than once. You see it in the finished double portrait, and very famously in The Night Watch, executed just about a year later.
But back to our print-- Cornelis Claesz Anslo is depicted seated at a plain, draped table in an unadorned interior. He gestures toward an open bible with one hand-- that speaking hand of the orator. The other hand, holding a pen, rests atop a standing volume. Hands and books not only bracket Anslo's rotund, warmly dressed body, itself topped off by a sine wave elegant hat that itself encircles his head and forms the backdrop of a rather prominent ear. No. We also understand by the action of his hands that Rembrandt makes reference to Anslo's close associations to scripture, to his own writing, and to sermons.
While so much of this image seems geared to the viewer, Anslo's gaze is averted from us as he addresses his audience offscreen. Instead, we are offered unusual access to his ear, into the supposition that this preacher listened as well as spoke.
Now I turn to the quiddities-- three in number. First is the wall. I'm skipping a couple of things. Joost van den Voldel refers to the oratory of Anslo-- that to know him is to hear him. That's very freely adapted.
So the wall-- that will do for the wall. The wall serves as ground to Anslo's figure and is extremely variable in line and tone. At the level of Anslo's head, the surface of the wall is bright and unmarked. Above the head, there's a light hatching of lines left and right with meandering lines in-between and below-- idiosyncratic blooms of cross-hatching, which darken either side of the print.
On the left, it's hard to see here, but on the left, my, perhaps, over-eager eye discerns some kind of architectural outline in the cross-hatching. On the right hovers a strange translucent shape, to which we'll return.
The second quiddity I suggest is the nail that protrudes from the wall above and to the right of Anslo's head. I have to forward again. It casts a shadow. And around this nail grows a tracery of fine lines.
Dickey suggests that the nail, "spijker" in Dutch, may punningly refer to the church, where Anslo first preached, as did his father before him. But I think the nail's deliberate singularity calls for, perhaps, a semiotic approach. I find it emphatic, precise, penetrating as it punctuates an uncharted expanse. I also find it a distinct material fact-- hard, unyielding, and irritating. And I end with the note of irritation because I have not yet figured out what more this nail how more this nail might signify.
But it leads us to the last of my quiddities-- that Edward Gorey-like corpuscular form adorning the wall behind Anslo and his pile of books. I show it to you here in detail. What shall we call it?
Dickey numbers the ways-- a chair back, tombstone, fire screen, stove, reversed painting-- this latter thought to have been removed from its nail on the wall and turned to the wall in order to emphasize the importance of the word over the image. Dickey suggests that it may be a metaphoric mirror, a theological device. I believe its identity is less pressing than its presence.
Dickey also noticed-- let's see if I can give us a good detail of it-- that Rembrandt seems to have made several alterations in this passage of the print. She points to a series of lines that suggest that the shape was once a rectangle and that Rembrandt's signature preexisted the object. So I wonder-- in this place, did Rembrandt dither? In this etching, one of two states-- therefore, an etching to which Rembrandt did not return repeatedly.
Rembrandt shows himself to be a devoted materialist. Witness the variety of textures, and light, fur, and beard, lace, and tassel, paper, and hat, and flesh. Let's give him his due. Look at Anslo's soft face-- itself so much less interesting to me than the rest of this image.
So to what realm does this shape belong? This piece of wall made to speak Rembrandt's name-- perhaps a shadow world in which Rembrandt gives himself with Anslo's blessing-- a place at the table. Thank you.
I now also have the great pleasure and honor to introduce our next speaker, our keynote speaker for the afternoon-- Susan Donahue Kuretsky, whose work has also informed my own over the years. And it's a pleasure to have made her acquaintance today and to introduce her now. Professor Kuretsky is a Professor of Art at the Sarah Lawrence Gibson Blanding chair at Vassar College. She received her AB from Vassar and her MA and PhD from Harvard University. She has also taught at Boston University and is a visiting Kennedy Professor of Art at Smith College.
Publications include, diverse articles on Rembrandt, and 17th-century printmaking, the exhibition catalog of Time and Transformation-- In Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, co-authorship of the catalog of Dutch paintings at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and a monograph on the Dutch genre painter, Jacob Octervelt.
Her teaching includes courses on northern Renaissance and baroque art and science in the age of observation, and museum history theory practice, and currently-- no surprise-- is occupied in a seminar on Rembrandt prints as we speak. Please help me welcome Susan Kuretsky.
SUSAN DONAHUE KURETSKY: Thank you very much, Lisa, and particular thanks to Andy and Andaleeb for providing this magnificent occasion and that wonderful show we've been looking at and I hope we'll return to also. Most of the works coming up next can be examined in the original-- I'm happy to say not far from here-- a couple of exceptions.
And the one that I wanted to actually begin with is the one that includes-- where is it? There. The most line-- I think this print has the most varied line of practically all of the Rembrandt's-- Three Trees of 1643. And so this is where we begin.
I'd like to begin by just reminding all of us, I suppose, that we've all been students. And if we're lucky, we still are. Some of us instructors, too-- so we know that a process that begins in the classroom can resonate long after that for everyone involved, knowing that a class can even change how we see and think, and sometimes, so deeply that a person can emerge from the experience a slightly different person. That result, I think, is almost guaranteed if you are in a position to introduce students or be one of those students being introduced to Rembrandt's prints in the original. All the more, if the class takes place either in proximity to an exhibition or in a print room, to which say, can have ready access outside and inside class-- so a lot of chance to really be looking at the real thing. And I've been very lucky, and so have my students, about this.
In 1941, Vassar received a large gift from the Warburg family-- an extraordinary gift which included 170 old master prints, most of them by Durer and Rembrandt. Nadine--, at this point-- where are you? I'd like to thank you especially on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which of course, is one of the great print collections in the world because the terms of the Warburg gift to Vassar specified that a print could only come to us if the Met did not need it to fill a gap. Well, how lucky can you get? Not so many gaps there.
So I'm able to show you here actually two very good impressions. Ours is in the show here. And that's the Mets on the other side of this wonderful print. And so the print seminars I've been able to offer-- like the one now in progress-- I think they really do almost as many thanks to the Met as they do to the Warburg family.
The students I work with are all undergraduates-- intelligent, mostly rather short on experience and information-- at least at the beginning. And they tend to see even well-known works with innocent eyes. This is not a bad thing-- actually, anything but.
Often, there can be moments in the class when a fresh observation makes me feel as if I'm taking the class also along with the students. And those are some of the best moments I have, I think, in my teaching life. Still, it has to be said that the virtues of old master prints are not always obvious right away to undergraduates. And so one tries to meet them where they are.
To students, of course, the term "print" is easily confused with the word "copy". Or it conjures up the notion of some kind of cheap, mass reproductions, along with a suspicion that anything printable more than once can't possibly have the status of a singular creative invention. But one gets by that fairly quickly simply by exposure to the class material. Students do, however, get the point much more quickly if there are copies or reproductions on-hand for comparison. And actually, we do have a couple of those as well.
I have to correct the caption on this. I hope I'm right about this. Eric is an etching, not an engraving. This is Louis Marvy very, very careful, rather complete copy after Rembrandt's Three Trees. And this came to us along with the original Rembrandt itself in 1941.
And actually, if students look at this first, if I look at it first, and for a moment or two, you think, well, that's the real one, isn't it? And then you begin to get a little sort of uneasy. And there's something not quite right about it. And I think the not-quite-rightness manifests itself mostly up in here. Sometimes things seem a little bit too rigid in ways they don't in the Rembrandt.
I'll come back to the original. See what I mean? Here and here.
Well, then you can take it even another step. Wow, now here's Marvy being copied by somebody else later in the 19th century. This is a wood engraving by [? Pisan. ?] And this actually came to the Vassar collection in 1864-- one of the first works that were acquired there. And it's perfectly clear you know that this is a copy after something else.
Both of these copies, of course, are original prints, because the artist personally inscribed the image on a plate or a block of wood. But nonetheless, they're attempts at replicating somebody else's work. And that shows.
Alas, that unbridgeable gap that marks even every confrontation with an attempt at reproducing an individual always shows itself in the end. And that's true equally of digital projections. All the ones I'm going to show you-- some of them-- and I did my best-- are really satisfactory, partly because of their greatly inflated size, but also the degree of material presence, which can never really be the same as the original.
Students are so accustomed to accepting as real the projected billboards we be used for classroom instruction, that confronting actual prints and their smallness and tangible presence always astonishes them. But that's not to say that they understand how long it takes to actually see them. They don't. And that takes some time to learn.
Only recently have I begun to understand why there is that difficulty of understanding that you need to do what we've been referring to more than once today, as slow looking. And it's because we now live in such a visually accelerated world-- above all, for people like today's students, who were born into a digital age and have never known anything different than that.
Imagine this. There is actually now neurological proof that for all of us, immersion and floods of instantly accessed digital information is constantly rewiring pathways in our brains to speed up perception even further. This was a shocking discovery that I made when it was pointed out to me. So as a result, we are constantly being programmed to see faster and faster, but not necessarily more and more deeply. And if you don't believe me, please focus on the screen for just a moment and keep looking at it.
Whoops. There's The Three Trees again. Don't blink. You ready? We just saw the exhibition in five seconds. And you could see it, too, couldn't you? Probably the younger you are, the more clearly you saw it, I suspect.
But nevertheless, here we go again. This is, I think, quite a lesson. And I'm not sure quite what to do with it, because there are all kinds of advantages of course seeing quickly and recognizing things quickly. But this is a situation, I think, that really bears on the importance of studying prints.
So you just saw the entire exhibition. But you didn't really see it. And at this point, I think we should consider, really, the importance of involving students with activities that really require that they look very, very slowly and over time. It's a special kind of learning that may prove to be more important than we realize-- far beyond the art-history classroom.
To engage them with material that calls for patience, focus, and prolonged attention, to show them how to fix attention on an image and take the time to actually decode how it works visually is to get beyond the surface of merely saying or seeing how something looks. And that's to connect them directly with how an artist works through developing and executing an idea, which is not a simple and really a short process, especially for Rembrandt's. So the potential for their own clarity and depth of seeing and thinking is very great. And nobody understood this better than Rembrandt or the people who work on his works.
I'm putting up on the screen now, as you can see, a painting. I wanted that to seep into your consciousness for the last few moments-- this is in the Rijksmuseum-- to make the point that this is an entirely different kind of experience, and actually, an entirely different kind of process. It's a landscape, by Rembrandt, again. It includes figures on the water in the foreground, big trees, dramatically changeable weather is there.
It was made in 1638. So this would be only about five years before The Three Trees. And it also includes a similar dramatically changeable weather. But the scene is alive in an entirely different kind of way.
Paintings are about constant addition and effacement at the same time, because they are the culmination of a process that builds up in layers. Whatever is added covers and masks what went before. What went before vanishes into the fusion and completion of the work, or the completion of the idea.
So you're looking at the end of the process. And to a certain extent, you can retrieve it still by analyzing the composition, considering the color, and so on. But you can't really see it in that sense.
But to study a Rembrandt print, on the other hand, is a whole other experience, isn't it? It's to feel like a fisherman, I often think, waiting for a fish to rise to the bait. I sometimes ask myself, who's the fisherman? Who's the bait? Am I, or is the print? Just as the old couple at the lower left here are fishing-- I'll show you a detail of that in a moment.
This is a reciprocal process, because in a way, prints have expectations, too, just as a viewer does. They require very close attention to which they then respond by gradually rising to the surface and revealing themselves in all their complexity. Far from appearing finished, a print like this seems perpetually alive in its revelation of an entire creative process whose development is actually largely visible, because we can see all the different marks made by the artist's hand. This exhibition, I think, is very well named. Yes, it really is all about line.
Seen within the context of any group of his works, this print declares itself to be one of the most visually dense and complicated images Rembrandt ever made. And I think partly that's just because it aspires to show so much to convey the distinctive beauty of his Dutch world-- the nearness of fertile, flat land to water, the rise of a dike, how country and city are never far apart, how people are always there working or enjoying nature, and always a sense of changing wind and sky.
But the print is also a manifestly deliberate display of artistic virtuosity, especially in its deployment of so many different kinds of lines-- mostly etched lines. But there's also added drypoint. Other lines are scored directly with the [INAUDIBLE] and right directly into the plate itself-- those long lines at the upper left. And so we even find, in sometimes, unique impressions, that there can be subtle translucent touches of ink wash called "plate tone" that will appear so that the individual impressions are sometimes rather different from one another.
In class, we look at prints first from a distance. This may seem a little odd, but surprisingly effective. Most of the class is in the foreground actually, out of the picture. But they're there. You can see them again in a moment.
Why in the world do that when the impulse is certainly to say, go up and look closely at all the detail in the work? But it's a useful tool, I think, in teaching, because immediately, the basic organization and pictorial structure of an image are often more apparent if you're looking at it from something of a distance. And a print that's really good-- and Rembrandt's always are really good-- will hold up to that. You actually can see it from a distance. Try that when you go next into the exhibition.
Those off-center trees seen from back here become not only large but oddly enormous, even more insistently the dominant focus of the entire scene. And so we begin to wonder what Rembrandt meant by that. And then we move into look more closely at everything else.
And you can see they're all lined up now and beginning to reach for the magnifying glasses. What can we see here close up? So much that was the lower left-hand corner. You feel like you're being kind of sucked into this world of line as well as this world of landscape.
Down there now on the screen are the fisherman and his wife, really fused with the landscape, emerging from it as you study the print. And above them fields stretch out-- farmers, animals, finally, little indications of a distant city. Then you go up to the top, and wow things really take off up there-- clouds and wind-- just a few lines, in a way, which mark downdrafts and swelling updrafts of air. You can see the birds even riding the wind up here in the background.
It's extraordinary. You feel like you're flying yourself when you begin to watch what's happening there with just a very few lines. And then there's long sheets of what is probably, I think, falling rain. Some people have said sun-- those long diagonals at the left.
And we move over to the other side-- right foreground-- the famous detail of the lovers hidden away into this dense underbrush that Rembrandt has created. And if you look really closely even from wherever you are in this room, you'll probably be able to make them out. Here she is in profile. Here's was the boy.
She is reaching out and putting her hand directly between his legs. I think maybe into his trousers even. Believe me, if there's one detail in Rembrandt prints, you can count on a class of undergraduates to pay close attention to, this is the one. No question.
So it's actually a kind of, I think, display of Rembrandt's virtuosity too, and using lesser line, and then using the most intense kind overlay of lines as well. You just want to keep looking at this. And you look up and you see the hole.
And then up here are the three trees themselves on the dike-- this extraordinary presentation of trees which are so close together and merged so completely at the top that they seem to have become one tree with three trunks. And you wonder about that as well. Was there some kind of symbolic meaning contended by this? And again, there have been many possible interpretations of it by scholars-- three trees, three crosses, trinity, and so on. Religious symbolism has often been mentioned.
Actually, I'm showing you a little Latin tag here down below that was very much in people's minds during the period when this was made, because it refers to what may be a more secular interpretation of this print-- maybe that it's a comment that Rembrandt was making, perhaps to his countrymen while capturing his own national landscape. This is an expression of hopes for national unity in the anxious period of the 1640s that would ultimately lead up to the official signing of Dutch independence, which happened in 1648. And this motto translated-- "Concordia" means literally, the concordia-- the coming together of hearts.
Literally, you might say, concordia makes small things grow. And above it, these united trees. I don't know. We'll never know for sure probably what the real intention on the part of the artist was. But the fact that the print also elicits so many possible responses and attempts at interpretation in itself is I think a very striking kind of situation.
At any rate, the programmatic deliberation of this print is especially striking when you look also at the detail. In the background, you can see a cart of people, passengers being taken long over the brow of the hill there. And then up here of all things, this tiny figure-- you can make out how many lines create it.
What an extraordinary capacity he had to simply bring forth something with the fewest number of lines possible-- wearing a sun hat, apparently sketching-- M be Rembrandt himself, or certainly, his surrogate-- on the highest elevation in the scene and also silhouetted against the light, but not, as you might expect, looking at the landscape, we see. He's looking away from it.
And this is always kind of mystified me. And I've wondered, why is that? Usually in Dutch landscapes, if there's a witness figure, they're looking at the landscape that you're also looking at. But he turns that around. Possibly the idea there is to simply show that nature and the inspiration of it is greater than the landscape even that we're looking at. But it's an intriguing kind of departure from something that one might otherwise expect.
At any rate, the programmatic deliberation of this print is, I think, particularly evident when you look at it next to other fine, large, but somehow, less emblematic-looking prints in the exhibition. And this is one extremely beautiful example that you can study, which is a little bit earlier. This is a landscape, cottage with large trees of 1641. So here you see trees cropped at the top almost merging with the cottage's weathered, thatched roof, which slopes down just past the midline of the scene to give you a kind of contrast between a wide open vista at the right onto that low, distant skyline versus the density of material forms on the left.
Now and then, I like to ask students to raise one hand and blank out one side of a work and then the other. Try it right now. Just look at one side. You choose either one. And then look at the other side.
It really makes you notice, all of a sudden, a lot more in the particular sides, but also in the coming of them together, because a lot of the punch in this rural scene is in its contrast between solid and void. And not only in what is or is not represented, but also in the utter contrast between areas of the sheet that are occupied by line and other areas that are untouched by it.
At the same time, though, wherever there are lines, the artist maintains a fairly straight steady graphic tone, even as the lines themselves shift in length and direction to refer to different textures. And yet, they do it without memetically recreating what they represent, without memetically recreating it, without trying to become it. They refer to it. We believe in what it is. But they're not becoming it, as a painter might attempt to do.
How do you explain the fascination of all this? I find that there's almost no limit to the amount of time and attention I'd be willing to spend looking at any part of this print, or in fact, all the ones outside. And I think it's because the artist facilitates a kind of double vision-- the scene itself, but also lines as lines. And so the deliberate incompleteness that the medium creates the incompleteness of the illusion seems to bring forth the presence of the artist and the process of the work itself.
So even as we recognize the scene depicted, we have to recognize it for being what it is-- lines of ink on paper. You have to recognize that someone made it. Someone saw it this way. And it's been created this way so that we can see it filtered through his way of seeing.
Rembrandt had a very long career. And it seems he never stopped rethinking what he was doing-- everything he did and how he did it, all the while exploring the enormous variety of subject matter we find in his prints. That evolution was deeply tied to his curiosity and delight in the medium of etching itself, often with drypoint. And we can see this very easily in how his touch-- his actual way of making and using line-- changed radically over time.
It's very satisfying for students to find that they can quite easily learn to date Rembrandt's prints-- at least to a placement in a particular decade of his career, because they really do, in a way, organize themselves clearly. You can kind of tell the way he's thinking at that time-- not just about his subject, but about his way of using the medium. So you look at a very early print-- this is in the exhibition, circumcision-- 1625-- and you can very clearly make out what the subject is, the interpretation of it, where the figures are.
But you look at the lines themselves, and it is a print that actually suggests to me that he's thinking about printmaking, at that early point, more as drawing. His mission really is to try to clarify the story to use different kinds of hatchings a bit. But basically, the single lines are standing up very strongly. And there's a fairly even amount of dark to light throughout the entire thing.
And things will change a lot actually, as one goes on in this way. Of course, it's kind of crazy to just pick one from a decade and then jump up another decade. But I'm going to do it anyway.
Here's another early one, though-- earlyish. This is later. This is now in the 1630s-- self-portrait with Saskia The one in the exhibition is against a lighter ground. And it will look a little bit different when you go out to see it.
I think that's Oberlin's. Am I right?
1636 now-- less elaborate-looking in terms of trying to make the scene clear in terms of line, but more informal apparently. That kind of quivery, almost hairy line that Rembrandt uses in the 1630s is one that creates illusion. So it's striking that he's showing himself at work creating the illusion-- apparently studying himself and his wife Saskia in a mirror, which would have to be where the observer is-- out where we are. So in a way, I guess you could say he is making us the mirror.
And the print makes us ponder connections between seeing and representing, between seeing and being seen, and certainly, in the interplay between artist and viewer. And you jump to an entirely different subject near the end of the decade-- 1639-- two impressions of this in the exhibition-- The Death of the Virgin, which, to me, is one of the most daring prints of Rembrandt's entire career. And very likely, something that had to do with this print may have been Saskia's relentlessly failing health during the late 1630s.
She would die very young in 1642. This print is dated 1639. So I'm not suggesting it's a literal representation of her. But it would be hard to separate it out from some of the drawings being made of her during that period as well.
What we notice here, I think, in terms of the work as a print, as this combination really, of using line to evoke in such a vividly contrasting way, the solid materiality of the world versus the opening of heaven itself into the next world. And yet all this happens as a kind of continuous process-- not simply a contrast. And indeed, the entire compositional setup of the thing is a long diagonal from corner to corner that seems to take you from this meticulously represented lower corner with all its materiality, a rug on the table, the large book, costume worn by the figure, and then gradually passing right through this figure, who's between one world and another, all the way up, finally, to where line doesn't necessarily dissolve.
I'm not sure that there's a word for what I want. I want to say here-- because the line is as strong as it could be. But there's fewer of them. And they're rendered at various, almost surprising, directions. And then out of them come these very lightly sketched images of winged figures. And you really sense that you're witnessing this process of a kind of dramatic transformation, which he's been able to achieve in such a complete way that we are actually able to feel that we're viewing the miracle of it itself.
Now in the 1640s-- and we saw this in the two landscape prints-- there's a growing interest in letting the material aspects of printmaking become more and more noticeable to be recognized for their own sake-- in other words, that you will actually notice you're looking at a print much more instead of simply thinking of it as being an illustration of something other than itself. So an emphasis on lines, on the substance of ink, on drypoint often, and the texture or tone of paper itself all draw more notice, and sometimes, as here, with rather startling effect.
This is 1648-- also in the exhibition-- St. Jerome by the Pollard Willow, a work that has often been called unfinished. But apparently, it was not unfinished to Rembrandt, who signed and dated it 1648 very clearly. An enormous ancient willow stump, which is blasted to its core by age, possibly by lightning as well, absolutely dominates this vertical sheet in a dark mass of densely worked detail, all very sharply silhouetted against what? Almost nothing-- perhaps a ravine, maybe a waterfall back there-- just a few lines to indicate that there is a setting behind.
The rough texture of the bark is so intensely evoked that we can virtually feel it on our fingers. One foliated branch with those velvety touches of drypoint reaches out to the right almost protectively over the small, more lightly etched figure of the old man beneath it. The scholarly, deeply absorbed St. Jerome, who is peering through his spectacles-- get a little bit closer-- see him here? He's right directly under the tree itself, working in an improvised writing desk, which is, again, I think, very deliberately paralleled with the branch itself.
So there's a message here, certainly-- obviously, the frequently commented upon association of the age with mortality. But these daringly selective motifs and their placement are enhanced by very powerfully and deliberately contrasting lines. You can really see that in this one, I think, in the foreground. You just want to look at the lines as lines. That itself is delightful.
This is not only, I think, a matter about regeneration and renewal in the Christian sense. But it's the parallel flowering of the wise old man. It is productive scholarship in the ancient tree, which is still putting forth fresh new leaves above him.
Now this exhibition includes a number of magnificent, late works from the 1650s. And it was hard to know which one to choose as an example of that. But here's the one I picked, which is this. Wow. Jupiter and Antiope 1659-- so this is very late work.
And here again, we find a continuing interest, certainly in using unmarked areas of the paper to intensify narrative focus, and pictorial balance, as well, really. You can say it's a rather off-centered kind of image in that sense. But figures are really brought into this central and yet very diagonal area of the scene, and on either side, framed by those corners of the page, which are much less marked than they are-- a way of intensifying narrative focus and giving the scene a kind of vivacity visually as well.
And it's a print which is, of course, a variation of the story itself on a popular thematic type-- a beautiful, innocent female, unconscious or unaware, as we see here, being approached by a desirous male. I could point to a number of different subjects that make that same point. But this version of the topos shows the sleeping Antiope unaware of the lustful presence of Jupiter, who has transformed himself into a sader as you can see.
The types and directions of the lines here are radically reduced, really, to repeated, diagonal, parallel hatching. So you can immediately quite easily recognize works of the 1650s. And these diagonals are both within and outside the forms, or the outlines anyway, of the figure's faces and body positions, therefore encourage immediately that we look at them, and we look at their relationship, and the strange kind of interplay of them, visually, but also, in terms of her unconsciousness and his consciousness.
Both figures are utterly motionless. The uninhibited deep slumber of Antiope with her arms flung above her head to expose her body makes us notice that it is actually Jupiter, who has uncovered it-- very quietly, not touching her, but leaning forward to gaze with an expression of such enthralled and absorbed attention that he seems almost to be breathing her in.
The smaller, earlier version of the narrative made way earlier-- 28 years earlier, 1631-- shows an entirely different interpretation and handling of line, certainly. Technically, it's more tentative. It's less assured. Interpretively, it's definitely a lot less serious. Indeed, not without humor, I'd say.
And the contrast between Antiope's oblivious passed-out unconsciousness, and the young Jupiter, now, who very enthusiastically bounds in from the background with a big smile-- it's a whole different kind of reaction one gets to this print than this one, especially when you've looked at them together. And it's always good to compare ones of different times, different periods, because the interpretation will always be different. So you come back to the late work, and you understand how much more intensely and deeply actually, the encounter has been imagined.
I once showed this print to a friend, actually another art historian whose specialty is the 19th century. And she immediately said she saw a faint, abstracted reversal of Jupiter down here on the bed next to Antiope. Give that a thought while you're looking at this-- as if the intensity she said, of Jupiter's desire, were somehow projecting him onto the bed next to Antiope.
I won't try to convince you of this necessarily. But it's one of those situations when somebody tells you it, you can hardly prevent yourself from trying to see it that way. You may think that this is an absolutely crazy interpretation and reject it. And I'm not necessarily saying you shouldn't.
But the point is that Rembrandt's prints, I think, and often, the more minimal they are, in terms of the amount of line used, actually really do seem to encourage this kind of constant sense of, I see something in this I didn't see before. Or I'm thinking of something that I didn't think of before in a completely, often, new way.
In spite of the enormous changes in Rembrandt's graphic language, his career has a kind of satisfying wholeness for students, because it makes sense to them-- so they tell me. They can see how his working process developed. It has a kind of recognizable quality at certain points. And I think it's also satisfying to look at, because you can see how he worked in the visible self-corrections and adjustments he made to the same plate. And we've got excellent examples of that in the exhibition.
These are the states, as have been mentioned before that avid collectors in his time and later would really eagerly seek to acquire more than one, if not all of them. So when you look at the de Jonghe versions, or states, of a plate, well, they're seemingly very small adjustments-- and see how that makes changes. That's really rather startling in terms of his way of just going back and changing small things and always readjusting and rethinking.
But an equally creative self-development was to change the subject altogether, but retain something similar in the setting and he does this in a number of ways in order to bring out some inner-core meaning that the artist apparently recognized in them. Students learn a lot from observing this kind of self-appropriation, which is really what it is, because it proves the advantages in a way of building on your own work, as well as the importance of seeking varied solutions to the same problem. So what you're looking at on the screen-- and this is only three of actually, many similar kinds of scenes with different subjects-- is three prints from the 1630s, '40s, and '50s, in which what's going on is completely different. Couldn't be more different in each one. , And yet the setting is actually rather similar.
So just taking a look at the early one on the left-- the rat-poison peddler-- this is 1632. So it's very early. An encounter which would have been very familiar to a Dutch viewer in Rembrandt's time-- an itinerant seller of rat poison and his young assistant come to the doorway of a village house to sell their product. And they've got a rather hideous before and after demonstration at the top to convince you to buy it. They're rats who've been killed by the poison hanging from the basket, and others who are running around inside.
And the rat poison seller has actually tamed one of them and is sitting on his shoulder-- kind of a nice touch. And he also seems to be wearing his own product, I often think as if he were wearing this kind of ratty-looking furry cape. So you recognize that hairy line and interest in texture is very much of the 1630s.
It's a house doorway, where insider and outsider meet, which defines the uncrossable boundary between their very vastly different lives. But it's also the only place where such a meeting could possibly occur. So with great hesitation and considerable revulsion, if you look at the hands, the client who needs the product but can't bear to touch or look at the person selling it, is kind of reaching out like this. And it's being offered to him. So the setting, in other words, gives this seemingly simple, even somewhat comic, genre scene in a larger and much more serious human message about otherness, I suppose, at the doorway.
The other one-- this is not in the exhibition, but it's a very similar kind of set-up-- up shows actually, an opposite situation. This is a family-- probably a beggar's-- dated 1648. And they are homeless people who've come to the doorway of, this time, a very fine townhouse, clearly. A kindly inhabitant is leaning out of the doorway and really reaching out to them and offering them alms as a kind of Christian charity.
It's immediately apparent. I think here how well the artist's choice of how much line to use or not to use served his interpretation, because all the figures are rendered with the same degree of detail and solidity. And all are united around that open door as a site of interchange. And yet the utter void behind the homeless beggars evokes the nowhereness from which they have come and which, of course, they must return.
Another daring decision here about relative graphic finish, which should remind you of another work we saw just a few moments ago, which is exactly the same year. So these two are completely different subjects. But there's a kind of thinking going on there that is not different but similar.
And then just one more, which is in the exhibition as well-- glorious late print-- 1656-- Abraham entertaining the angel. And this of course, now is a more complicated biblical narrative involving departure or even the notion of home itself, which is, in a sense, being encapsulated into only the doorway. And in his mind, this brings forth a similar kind of set-up.
Abraham is visited by three angels, or maybe two angels and God in the center. It takes students a while to figure out that this is Abraham down here, where he's humbly serving this group of figures. There certainly never was more down-to-earth interpretation of angels or God than in the scene.
He is being visited there because they are bringing him the miraculous news that his barren wife, who'd been in her 90s-- Sarah, will finally miraculously bear her own child. And she is overhearing this from the doorway with mingled disbelief and delight from behind the open door as Abraham serves these heavenly guests. So there is a sense here of attention to the moment, being organized around a particular place, and also a kind of prediction, which is allowed into the future, because over at the right, we see a boy shooting an arrow off into the landscape into the distance. This is Abraham's son, born to the servant girl, Hagar, at Sarah's suggestion when she had given up hoping for the chance to bear her own child, Ishmael. And what will happen after this moment-- actually, Rembrandt had thought about and depicted many years before he did this particular print.
There they are together. 1630s on the right-- 1637. This is clearly the style. We've seen it again and again in the '30s. Similar set-up, but now, here's Hagar, here's Ishmael, and here's Sarah now laughing to see them depart.
And the stance and gesture of Abraham-- I just at this point, want to thank Frank Robinson, with whom I looked at so many prints actually, when we were both in graduate school, and who really taught me so much about the value of looking at them. I've always remembered something that he said about this particular one, which has stuck with me ever since. Things Frank tends to say about prints or things that stick with you for life.
So he pointed out that Abraham is so conflicted about this moment, he's having to send his sort of original family, child off into the wilderness-- feet going in opposite directions, hand going in opposite directions. So much is being gotten out of this narrative moment.
And he's just at that borderline here between the world beyond, where they're having to head, and then the world of the home inside, where Sarah is and where Isaac is as well. So it's kind of extraordinary interpretation, even then. And he didn't have to work in chronological order, either, with a story when he was working through these various kinds of complicated narratives.
Well, how in the world does one conclude remarks on Rembrandt's prints? There's so much. It's an endless thing, which is more than one lifetime in which one could happily engage, because they are endlessly fruitful and rewarding, intellectually and spiritually, and I expect always will be-- not only because of Rembrandt-- I think but because one almost feels that in his works, the very best works of art not only help us to grow, but allow us to see them differently and more deeply as he did at different stages of our lives, as he did at different stages of his.
One odd little example may bring this discussion in a way, full-circle. And this is a very small print you'll find in the exhibition. It seems entirely different from everything with just been looking at-- a little sheet of seemingly random studies, even turned at different angles to one another, and inscribed with very different kinds of lines. It looks rather like a careless doodle, really.
And yet, this too, of course, is an etching, which means it required the full process of preparing a copper plate with a ground, drawing lines upon the ground to expose the copper, and different tools for each, because some of the lines are very wide, and some of them are very thin. And then, of course, again, following through by bathing the plate in acid, removing the ground, printing it, and so on etching is far from a simple thing to do. And so, a doodle it isn't, let's say.
The largest and the freest sketch on the sheet shows a boldly rendered tree in the center with an equally sketchy figure standing beside it. To the right turned on its side is a carefully detailed slice of just the upper part of a man's head with one eye visible and the famous Renaissance beret, so often seen in Rembrandt's self-portraits as an attribute, very likely of the learned painter. Let's turn it upside down or turn it around a little bit so you can see it better. So you know who this is immediately when you see it like this.
And he seems to be perpetually in the process of becoming himself. There's another small eye even. Look at this. He has another one in there at an angle between the cap and the tree, with the same thin delicate lines used to create of all things, yet another odd little detail-- strands of hair at the right.
One is reminded here, of course, of passages in Karel van Mander's treatise on art of 1604. The advice it contains about landscape is especially valuable, I think, would have been, to young artists, because he advised young artists how to represent nature. He said, go out and look at it. And he was making these avocations at a point when landscape really wasn't the popular individual specialty that would become very quickly. He points out also, how particularly difficult it is to capture a mass of delicate living leaves trembling in the air. And so he recommended that art students make very close observation of them.
There's no way of knowing for sure why Rembrandt made and printed this odd sheet at this particular time. But I think it's very interesting that it's usually dated to the period right around, possibly shortly before-- could be shortly after, I suppose-- see what Eric says-- The Three Trees. Did he do this for his own pleasure? Did he do it as a kind of example for his students?
But it's striking that this seemingly random collection of motifs does seem to offer a surprisingly coherent statement about the artistic process by juxtaposing the artist's steady gaze below his velvety signature beret, with strands of hair below a massive foliage. He might well have been responding directly to what I think is the most wonderful sentence in of van Mander in his recommendation of closely observing nature who said, quoting, "Leaves like air, hair, and fabric are spiritual things and can only be conceived and reproduced by the imagination."
So what a wonder it all is, really-- Rembrandt's unity, wholeness, and the integrity of his work-- that universe he creates for us of small, fragile sheets of paper of vellum. Angels arrive with an incredible message. Heaven opens to receive a soul into paradise. People find or lose each other.
And out there, still, always, is nature, and the sun and the rain falling across the land, and those leafy crowns of the leaves, again, filled with air. One is reminded again of that little Latin quotation I think I mentioned a few moments ago-- "Unity makes small things grow." Thank you.
SPEAKER: Thank you very much, Susan. I think as we did this morning, we'll will take questions after we've heard from the final event the panel. And we'll take the opportunity for just a five minute stretch break here and then we'll come back with the panel.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: Hello. Oh yes, excellent. Hi, everyone.
Welcome back to the second portion of this afternoon's session. I'm Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Curator of European and American art at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College and co-curator of this exhibition. Today, I'm moderating this panel-- Teaching Rembrandt Prints in and out of the Museum, which we hope will give three diverse perspectives on the various roles that Rembrandt etchings play within and beyond the museum setting.
We have three speakers who will each give a short presentation. And then we will have time at the end for questions and discussion with the panelists and Susan, if you'd be willing to come on.
Our first speaker this afternoon is Nadine Orenstein Nadine Orenstein is the Drue Heinz Curator in Charge of the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has written and lectured extensively on 17th-century prints and drawings, with a particular focus on Dutch printmakers, including Rembrandt. Her publications also include several volumes for the new Hollstein Dutch series on the prints of Hendrik Hondius, Peter Bruegel the Elder, and Simon Frisius.
Her exhibitions at the Metropolitan include Peter Bruegel the Elder, drawings and prints in 2001; Hendrik Goltzius, prints, drawings, and paintings, 2003; Infinite Jest-- Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine, 2011; and most recently, The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers from this year. Please join me in welcoming Nadine.
NADINE ORENSTEIN: Hi. You have to excuse me, because I have a cold today. I just wanted to first-- the title that I gave is sort of a misnomer for what I'm going to talk about, which is more about teaching about more generally about old masters in a museums. I just wanted to say, though, that my first large exhibition that I worked on at the Met was the exhibition Rembrandt, which Stephanie Dickey also worked on. We believe it's 1996 it was on.
And that for me, was more a learning situation rather than a teaching situation. And that's one thing about working in a museum, is especially when you're working on all these different exhibitions, you're always learning new things. And I was taking printmaking classes at the Lower East Side Printshop at the same time that I was working on the room of Rembrandt prints.
And so I would go down, take etching classes at the Lower East Side Printshop. And the teacher would say, don't put your fingers here. You've got to file down the plate edges and do all these things. And then I'd come back and look at the works and the show, and it dawned on me that Rembrandt wasn't doing any of those things that my teacher was telling me to do every day. And it really gives you just a different insight into an artist when you're making the actual works at the same time as looking at them. And I really advise, especially students, always to try it out, because it gives you such a different way of looking at what the artist does.
Let me start by saying that curators are almost always teaching, whether it's a graduate course-- which many of my colleagues and I have done in the museum-- or to a group in a large auditorium, or one-on-one with an intern, or a donor. We're always teaching. I consider even label writing teaching. That's our job-- sharing what we know about the works in our collection with the public in its many forms. We also teach through writing. We write labels, books, articles, bulletins, online features all to communicate to the public something about the works in our collection.
Now our audience is diverse, from knowledgeable scholars to the general public. And that's one thing about teaching in the Met is we're constantly juggling the needs and expectations of these different constituencies in absolutely everything we do. One of the great benefits of teaching in a museum, and especially in the Metropolitan Museum, is that we have a great collection to work with. And we can teach from the actual objects, as Susan so beautifully put it earlier.
We can really bring people in and look at actual objects. And it's so different than looking at things on a screen. Showing an image of a print in a lecture hall on a screen is nothing like seeing the work in real life. With the actual work, and especially the with the work on paper, you get a sense of the scale, the texture, the color, the pressure of the medium on the paper, and other details of the work that will never come across when blown up in a PowerPoint presentation.
And they are important, because they make you think differently about the work as a real object. Seeing a work in real life provides information about the life of the work, how it was created, bought, and collected. Is a print large or tiny? Was the print reprinted over a long period of time?
I love bringing out for students-- we have a very large printing plate-- I swear, it's about this big-- in our collection. And you pick it up. And you feel like immediately how heavy this thing is. And that just all of a sudden it gives you a whole different idea of what must have been going on in a print shop with people lugging around these very heavy things.
And we just bought, at the print fair down in New York, a small lithography stone by Gavarni. And it's only about this big. But I swear, it weighs a ton. And it just all of a sudden gives you a whole different idea of what must have been going on to print those things. So you get the whole idea of the amount of physical work that might potentially go into creating a print.
Now discussing works on paper in front of actual drawings and prints is one of the great joys and benefits of teaching in a large museum. There are other aspects of teaching in a large museum that are important as well. Our audience is very different in breadth than the one taught in a university setting, or even in a university museum. And I'm just going to show you this to make that point.
This is 40% of the Mets Fifth-- that means 5th Avenue-- visitors are international. And all these percentages are percentages of the 40%. So the largest chunk of our visitors come from all other parts of the world-- China, France, United Kingdom. It's really a very international audience.
The other thing is that we have lots of different age groups that come to the Met. We're skewing younger, happy to say. But it's really such a very diverse audience. Even if the story has been discussed in magazines and newspapers over the course of years, you cannot count on everyone knowing anything about it. I'm just going to go back to the blank screen.
So I just wanted to tell you an anecdote to illustrate this. And some of you were at this event. In 2009, there was an exhibition at the Getty Museum of drawings by Rembrandt and his pupils called, Rembrandt and His Pupils-- Telling the Difference.
Now the Getty held a day of lectures on the theme in there big auditorium, in which an array of luminaries in the field spoke on subjects of drawings by Rembrandt and his pupils-- the late Seymour Slive, the late Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, on Martin Royalton-Kisch, Peter Schatborn, Bill Robinson among them. These are like all the people who know everything about this subject. They all gave talks relating to the connoisseurship of the drawings by Rembrandt and the artists in his circle, talking about the minutiae of attributions of the different drawings in this circle.
A sizable group of scholars had come out to LA for the talks. I was among them. And in the audience were also members of the public.
At the end of the day, they threw the discussion open to questions from the audience. And Gary Schwartz, who was a well-known figure, got up and started talking about how he could define the core of Rembrandt drawings-- these very topics that we're all discussing in the field. Then a man at the back of the audience raised his hand for a question, which went something like this. It's so interesting all of what you've been saying about Rembrandt and his pupils. Do we know anything about Rembrandt's life?
And all of a sudden, it was like, Boom! Back down to step one. And this happens all the time in the museum.
And I have to say, Seymour Slive, with great aplomb-- he answered the question in an entirely non-condescending way and really answered this man's question. But to the rest of us, it was like, oh my God. We've been talking about this for ages. Like really, we've moved well beyond this question.
But you have to understand that this is the sort of question we always get in the museum. We start talking on this level. And then we realize not everybody is at that point. It's not that they're not interested in that level up here. But the fact is that they're not keeping up to date with scholarship like the rest of us.
So it's part of this thing that goes on in a museum is we're always sort of walking this wire or these different levels between what we can say that will satisfy our colleagues and scholars, because we're spending a lot of time doing research on a certain topic, and then bringing along the rest of the audience to understand what we're talking about. And that's really a challenge that we go through all the time in large museum world.
Now this often in the museum you have no idea who your audience is. And this is your one shot to talk to them. So it's very different than Susan, who has a whole semester to bring students back, or Andy, and Rick, who have been working with people for a long time.
And you bring them along over the course of a semester here. We have one day. Maybe they're going to come back in a half year, we hope, for my next tour. But it'll be on a totally different subject.
Now you often feel like you're bringing the audience along with you on a discussion. But you have to always be aware that they may not know the basics. So my colleague, Perrin Stein, was saying the other day, yes, I did a whole show about French etchings by French 18th-century artists. And then inevitably, at the end, someone would say, are these all prints? It's like, really? Really?
And that's particularly true having people not knowing the basics is when you're talking about prints, because even art historians who are well-trained don't always know some of the basics about printmaking. You cannot take for granted that the public will know the basic vocabulary relating to prints, unlike in the university, where you build a certain amount of knowledge over the course of semester so that by the end of the term, students will hopefully have learned and understood what the state of Rembrandt print is, what the inking of a plate might mean, or at least the nature of Rembrandt's extraordinary approach to printmaking.
In the museum, when we give tours or classes to the general public, we cannot assume anyone knows anything about prints. So our job is really about packing, into a short period of time, the basics and the more advanced material. And we are constantly aware of modulating those things depending on our audience.
Now I'm definitely not saying that we need to dumb down what we say or even the vocabulary that we use. Definitely not. Once you explain to people the basics in a clear way, it's my experience that people get it and can follow along.
But you can never make assumptions about what people already know. That's really it. You're always starting from scratch.
But people are fascinated. They want to know how prints are made. And they want to know all of these basics. And once you explain to them, they're on for the ride.
Another thing about teaching about prints in a museum is something that had not occurred to me until recently. And it plays a little bit into what Susan was saying earlier about people looking at taking in images very quickly these days. And we were talking about it on the bus coming up from New York yesterday. It has to do with the way people today have become accustomed to looking at art. And this has significant implications for the study of old masterworks on paper, and I think old masters in general.
Now we recently co-organized with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, an exhibition of the prints and paintings of the 17th-century Dutch artist, Hercules Segers. Segers was a printmaker working in Holland, whose career overlapped with Rembrandt. And Rembrandt was a big fan of Segers's work. He owned quite a number of paintings by him and clearly looked at his prints very carefully.
Segers's printed images look very much out of their time in terms of their imagery and their technique. And they look very much like contemporary artworks. So this is like the ideal for anybody working on old masters-- an old master artist who looks contemporary. Everyone will be coming. So it seemed to me it would be easy for people interested in contemporary art to appreciate them. This was our chance finally, to get the audience for contemporary art to look at and appreciate 17th-century art.
However, we had a big event. A dealer in modern contemporary prints came up to me at the end. She said, oh, I went to the Seger's show. I really liked it, but it took me a while to refocus the way I looked at things. And that really hit me, because I hadn't thought about it very much.
But here she is-- someone who deals in modern contemporary works. You can see them across the room and identify them. There's a Warhol. There's this.
And all of a sudden, these were small, dark images that you had to look at up close. You had to really take your time and look at the details. And it's not something that you can just walk in and have a quick look around and leave.
And it hit me that this is something-- she said that she liked the work very much. But it took her a moment to refocus the way she was used to looking at things. And it hit me that people look at contemporary art-- and more of them out there all the time-- are used to seeing works that they can identify very quickly. And these works by Segers were ones that you had to look at and take your time to take in the details.
And this really made me think that curators have to take this into consideration when we're organizing a show. Before we do anything now, we really actually have to explain to people-- or set them up in some way-- to understand how you need to look at the works in the show. And it's not that people didn't love looking at the works in the exhibition. But it takes some explanation.
Maybe you have to put out magnifying glasses. Maybe you have to even put a little label-- these works need to be looked at in close proximity-- something like that, because they really require a different kind of looking than people might be used to. And you have to just stand closer and take your time.
And that's really something I knew. But it's something I didn't think had to be communicated. I thought people would just naturally figure it out.
But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you really have to now explain to people, because it's a different audience. And that's exactly what Susan was saying. People are used to just interacting with these images very differently than when I was growing up.
So I'll stop here. But these are some thoughts about teaching Rembrandt prints in a large museum like the Met. Thank you. Thank you Nadine.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: So our next speaker is Margaret Holben Ellis. She is the Thaw Professor of Paper Conservation and Chair of the Conservation Center Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, where she teaches the conservation treatment and technical connoisseurship of prints and drawings. Until this past January, she was director of the Thaw Conservation Center at the Morgan Library and Museum. She is the current president and a fellow of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and a fellow of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and a Certified Conservator and Restorer of the Institute of Conservation.
She has published and lectured on artists ranging from Raphael and Titian to Pollock, Samaras, Lichtenstein, and Dubuffet. Her research on artist's materials and techniques is similarly wide ranging and encompasses Day-Glo colors, magic markers, and Crayola crayons. Recent publications include The Getty's philosophical and historical issues in the Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, and just this year, The Care of Prints and Drawings. Please welcome Peggy.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: Andaleeb didn't mention everyone calls me Peggy. So just forget the Margaret. So thank you. Thank you everyone for staying on stalwart.
OK. So as we have heard, attention has recently turned to the study of Rembrandt's printmaking papers. And today, I would like to describe how my students and I answered the question, how might a computer contribute to the connoisseurship of Rembrandt papers?
To quickly review, in Rembrandt's time, paper was created by dipping a mold, having a porous screen into a vat of macerated and suspended pulp. The screen was fabricated from densely spaced rows of so-called laid wires held into position by more widely spaced chain wires. When a mold is plunged into the vat of paper pulp and lifted up, the chain inlaid wires act as a sieve. The paper pulp is retained in thinner and thicker accumulations as the water drains away.
A grid-like pattern results from the interference of wires and is replicated in the final sheet of paper. It can be easily seen when a paper is held up to light, as seen here. The chain wires produce the vertical evenly spaced lines called "chain lines", which are described according to their intervals. Excuse me. The chain wires produce the vertical evenly spaced lines called chain lines, which are described according to their intervals or spacings. For example, one F line every 2 centimeters.
Another common paper feature, and one receiving far more attention in Rembrandt's scholarship, of course, is the watermark. The watermark is formed by stitching a thin wire bent to a simple shape onto the surface of the mold. It also affects the weight and the quantity of pulp as it drains through the mold and leaves behind the characteristic translucent impression.
To record watermarks most accurately, radiographic images are made, which, unlike transmitted light, penetrate dense printing ink. This radiograph of a Rembrandt print reveals differences in paper density, much in the same way that an X-ray will reveal a skeleton. Thus, the thinner, or less-dense, areas of the paper appear darker, while the thicker areas are lighter. The chain lines appear as five dark vertical lines. So technically speaking, they, too, are watermarks.
As we have seen, watermarks are said to be identical when they can be superimposed and have exactly corresponding details. Papers having identical watermarks are presumed to have come from the same paper-making mold. In other words, they're mold mates. Through close scrutiny of their watermarks, it's been established that papers made from the same mold were used to produce several different Rembrandt prints. Here are just two prints whose identical watermarks have deemed their papers to be mold mates.
So imagine, if you will, a ream, or as Eric has told us, several quires of paper are alongside Rembrandt's printing press and are used sequentially to pull prints. It's reasonable to imagine that papers made from the same mold would be in that ream of paper. The discovery of mold mates then, might suggest that prints made from them are closely related in time. It might indicate paper preferences or periods of intense print-making activity.
Probably the most serious obstacle to identifying and characterizing Rembrandt papers, however, is the simple fact that the majority of surviving sheets have no watermark at all. Indeed, it's been estimated that 2/3 of the [INAUDIBLE] impressions of Rembrandt's etchings, like this one, which we saw earlier, have no watermark or even a fragment of one.
Since watermarks having absolutely identical, superimposable watermarks are presumed to be mold mates, we wondered if, by extension, papers having absolutely identical, superimposable chain line intervals would also be mold mates. Because each mold was made by hand, small variations exist between the exact intervals of chain wires from one mold to the next. Note here the different lengths of the two black arrows indicating the chain line spacings.
Matching each paper's unique configuration of chain lines would seem to be a reasonable substitute for super-imposable watermarks. The problem is putting theory into practice. To match mold mates using only chain line intervals is not nearly as straightforward as one might think.
With no watermarks having elaborate figural details to facilitate superimposition, one must be able to differentiate between for possible views of simple, parallel lines. So the first view is what I call "no flip", then an up-down flip, a left-right flip, and an up-down flip the left-right flip. So I hope you can appreciate that to do this for the 2/3 of watermark prints having no watermark at all, would make one cross-eyed. Furthermore, Rembrandt prints lacking watermarks have not typically been imaged in the first place ever, because they have no research value to paper historians.
Enter the mathematicians and the techies who suggested to me that computer algorithms can do what humans cannot when it comes to crunching huge amounts of data. All that is needed is measurable patterns that have already been captured in the radiographs of Rembrandt's watermarks, which, happily, simultaneously captured those overlooked, underappreciated, and unique chain line intervals.
Thus, the chain line pattern matching, or CLiP Project, began and commenced along two separate tracks. Rick Johnson and I decided that one, we would locate a trove of old paper having known mold mates in order to test our automated CLiP software. And two, we would apply the automated CLiP software to already-existing images of Rembrandt watermarks and use those watermarks to confirm that the algorithms work. These two tracks presented us with the best chance of proving that automated pattern-recognition software could work and potentially lead to the birth of computational connoisseurship.
The first order of business was to locate a collection of handmade papers produced from a limited number of molds, thereby increasing our chances of finding a mold mate. But where to look-- enter the book lovers. Our bibliophile colleagues have long known that there is a high probability of coming across mold mates in a bound manuscript or a printed book, because they reflect the paper-making industry at that time. How can an old book give us a peek into historic paper-making processes?
That's the book. OK.
So I see it in this. This is the other paper-making print that's used. I'm glad that Eric found another one. We were getting kind of tired of this one.
But I see in this 18th-century engraving. The vat man plunges mold A-- so here's the vat man, and here's the first mold-- into a tub of paper pulp, brings it up, and passes the mold along to his helper. So here is his helper right here. And after doing so, he picks up a second mold, mold B, which is where is this one right here. He picks up mold B, which has now been emptied by his helper, and dips it into the tub, and passes it back to his helper, who has now emptied and returned mold A. So this continues the very rhythmic cycle of making individual sheets of paper.
So a day's production was processed sequentially and en masse. So it was stacked and pressed, as you see here. And then it was put into a post and put into the press. And then that batch of paper was dried, sized, graded, and packaged together into a ream of paper. So it's highly likely that that final ream of paper will contain papers from mold A and B. And a book made from that ream of paper will presumably contain papers from the molds belonging to one mill.
While we might not be able to go out there and find ream of old paper, we had a much better chance of finding an intact book made from that ream of paper. And such a book, coincidentally, was found in the study collection at the Conservation Center Institute of Fine Arts. And I have brought it along for you to see today.
It's a 16th-century blank ledger. And it's made from North Austrian paper. The paper probably dates from around 1570 to 1580s. And the watermark is a crowned double eagle holding a shield with the letter "K".
And throughout the entire book comprised of 113 individual sheets, there's only two watermarks in here-- mold A and mold B. And you can see small differences in the watermarks, as circled here-- particularly the outstretch talons and the right-hand neck and beak, as seen circled here.
So the ledger is comprised of 28 gatherings. This is a gathering. And each gathering is made from four sheets of paper. So the four sheets of paper-- four separate sheets of paper are put together and folded in half. Then you take 28 of these, stack them up, and sew them together.
Here you see that's gathering. So this is gathering one, as a matter of fact. So the gatherings are sewn together to form the book.
In this diagram, you can see the four sheets of paper. They will [? result ?] either mold A or mold B, depending on their watermark. And each sheet of paper is nestled, one within the other, and folded in half.
So randomly selecting page openings throughout the entire ledger, a student made 30 radiographs, noting whether they're from mold A or mold B, based upon watermark verification. These radiographs were then sent out to William [INAUDIBLE] of the University of Michigan for chain line pattern matching to see if it worked. His algorithms proved to be highly successful, where the results were confirmed by then superimposing the watermark.
So in this way, we were able to prove that the algorithm really did work. And only two from this batch ended up being questioned. And this had to do with tweaking our software a little bit.
So in the meantime, research track two was progressing apace. Rick Johnson acted as a persuasive ambassador to several collecting institutions and convinced them to pool all their radiographs of Rembrandt watermarks for automated clip-matching. Two unexpected and heretofore unknown mold mates were identified.
We observed a match between Rembrandt's Medea, or the Marriage. of Creusa, dated 1648, and the other, the artist's Mother in a Widow's Dress. That's been questioned quite a bit. And this is what makes this match particularly interesting is the artist's Mother in a Widow's Dress and black gloves has been questioned for many, many years as to whether it's by Rembrandt or one of his students. Most scholars today agree that the print on your right is by a pupil of Rembrandt, who is most likely copying an earlier print produced 17 years earlier in 1631. Because the papers are mold maids, though, meaning they came from the exact same mold of another print printed in 1648, this might suggest that only students working in Rembrandts studio in 1648 would have had access to the exact ream of paper, which might narrow down the list of potential capias.
We found another interesting pair of my mold mates-- an impression of the second state of The Three Crosses in the Morgan Library and Museum, and an impression of a third state of the same print, belonging to the Metropolitan Museum. The fact that these different states are on paper made from the same mold, as we've heard, is an indication of speed. And again, because these prints have watermarks, we are able to prove that the algorithm actually was correct.
Thanks to the intense scrutiny of Rembrandt prints, not to mention student labor, we're fortunate to have an ever-growing trove of watermark images. While they may not be as fascinating or amusing as watermarks, the uniquely spaced chain lines, also found in Rembrandt's papers, have enormous potential for future applications. Thank you.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: Our third speaker on the panel is Elizabeth Nogrady. A specialist in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish art, Elizabeth received her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has held positions in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Morgan Library and Museum, European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and old master paintings at Christie's, New York. currently she is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. Please welcome Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH NOGRADY: Hi. Good afternoon. I'd like to say thank you to Andaleeb and Andy, who asked me to discuss today a few examples of the ways in which faculty work with our campus museums to integrate Rembrandt prints into their teaching, particularly in fields other than art and art history. This morning, we saw a magnificent example of sustained collaboration, interdisciplinary collaboration. But right now, I'm going to take a little bit of a broader view.
I realize I'm the last speaker. So please sit back and relax. And we'll take a little cross-country trip to see what's happening in American campus museums. But first, I'd like to say that in the US, university professors in a wide range of disciplines have demonstrated a longstanding willingness to engage with works by Rembrandt.
At the Metropolitan Museum in 1912, a series of lectures by scholars from a variety of fields aimed to show instructors how they might engage their students with museum collections. Rembrandt was featured in the talk entitled, Museums of Art and Teachers of English by Princeton professor, Stockton Axon, who asserted quote, "Those Shakespeare and Rembrandt never pressed an electric button, or talked through a telephone, or rode in an automobile, or saw an airship, they were just as great, manly, and useful in their ways as our great inventors in theirs."
I can imagine the Vassar students today reacting to that one. While today, this language is painfully antiquated, the desire to find connections linking the museum to a wide range of academic disciplines has only intensified over time. In recent decades, propelled in large part by the Mellon Foundation's College and University Art Museum Program-- you saw my title was Mellon Curator-- that ran from 1990 to 2005, academic museums have reaffirmed their commitment to the core missions of their schools and intensified efforts to incorporate art collections into campus teaching practices.
In the context of these initiatives, old master prints have proven rich with interdisciplinary possibilities. So most people think it's all contemporary art in this interdisciplinary craze. But that's really not the case.
At Vassar, recent examples include, a talk given by Mark Schlessman, Professor of Biology and keeper of the campus arboretum on Crispijn Van de Passe's prints of tulips, in which Schlessman describes the viruses that caused the dramatic leaf patterns on tulips so prized in the 17th century. And you can't really see it in this slide, but he brought his tulips into the museum, which is probably not really a great idea, but is beaming to show us his actual flower and in front of the print.
For Imperial Augsburg-- Renaissance Prints and Drawings, organized by the National Gallery of Metropolitan Museum and shown at the Art Center in 2014, we connected the exhibition to the curriculum by creating a podcast featuring faculty from the departments of history, art history, Greek and Roman studies, and others. And this coming Thursday, if you're in Poughkeepsie, we're holding a panel in the galleries composed of professors from a range of departments to discuss 16th-century German prints and manuscripts from Vassar's collections in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses.
Rembrandt prints, with their diversity and technique and multifaceted subject matter, are particularly suited to boundary-crossing. In 2015, Vassar was preparing for the opening of its major new chemistry building-- the bridge for laboratory sciences. At the Art Center, we organized a series of small, permanent collection installations on the intersection of art and science, with themes such as botany, optics, and technology, among others. Rembrandt's The Hog featured an installation related to natural history and zoology, while his study from the nude featured in the anatomy display. As Stephanie mentioned, on campuses where the term "stem" has evolved to "steam" in acknowledgment of the importance of the arts, fault lines nevertheless continue to separate the humanities and hard sciences oftentimes.
Highlighting the importance of observation and study from life in Rembrandt's works is but one example of how his prints can serve as a meaningful bridge among disparate disciplines. In particularly fruitful instances, certainly in the exhibition upstairs and as we heard this morning, the wealth of diverse expertise present on university-- on a university campus has the potential to create a two-way street, benefiting the work of art historians as well as their colleagues in other departments.
To understand more broadly, how prints by Rembrandt figure in the field of academic programs, I queried staff at other American colleges and university art museums. So I just sort of sent this email out there and waited for these exciting responses, which demonstrated that Rembrandt's work is currently being used in fascinating ways throughout the country. In general, most uses of Rembrandt prints by non-art faculty aligned with a few key teaching models for campus collections, identified in 2012 by Steven Volk and Liliana Milkova. The two perhaps most straightforward models are those in which Rembrandt prints are used either to explore the cultural context of a course's subject matter or to enhance student assignments.
At the Eskenazi art museum of Indiana University, for instance, Senior Academic Officer Tavy Aherne has displayed a selection of Rembrandt prints for classes on early modern European history as well as Dutch language and culture. Tavy says, as students, faculty, and other audiences know of Rembrandt, there is an immediate accessibility. For many, his self-portraits can be wonderful ways in for viewers. As professors seek to promote experiential learning and explore pedagogical opportunities outside the classroom, the art museum presents an excellent site to achieve these goals.
Another identifiable model employs prints by Rembrandt as a means to draw out a particular theme or concept in their courses. When the Florida State Museum of Fine Arts held the attendance record-breaking exhibition, A Fortnight of Rembrandt-- Selected Etchings from the Mower Collection in 2013, professor of English David Kirby brought his creative writing students in order to discuss Rembrandt's innovative depictions of emotion and narrative. At the time, Kirby said, "Because we're studying paradigms smashers like Copernicus and Darwin, I wanted the students to see how artists change their worlds as well."
Theology and religion courses figure prominently in thematic uses of Rembrandt prints. At Amherst College, Pamela Russell, while curator of academic programs at the Mead Art Museum, worked with Professor Robert Doran on the religion courses Secret Jesus, which focuses on the non-canonical gospels, and another course called The Image of Jesus, which considers representations of Jesus in various media, including art, film, and music. In one exercise, Doran asks students to look at Rembrandt's Christ and the Woman of Samaria alongside Russian icons and early Christian oil lamps, in order to compare parables across various textual and visual sources.
Another compelling example can be found in Foundations of Theology, a required course at the University of Notre Dame. For these class sessions, which are primarily composed of first- and second-year students, the academic programs curator at the Snite Museum, Bridget Hoyt, bases a class discussion of artists' interpretations and visual representations of biblical texts on Rembrandt prints. According to Bridget, the Snite's late state of The Three Crosses leads to particularly lively debate over what exactly Rembrandt is capturing in the scene.
This fall, as in right now, the program is being enhanced by the special exhibition Rembrandt's Religious Prints-- the Feddersen Collection at the Snite Museum of Art. A book group led by theology faculty is meeting in the galleries surrounded by Rembrandt prints to discuss Henri Nouwen's 1994 spiritual meditation, The Return of the Prodigal Son-- a Story of Homecoming, inspired by the painting in the Hermitage.
In other instances, faculty members use original Rembrandt prints as primary sources. One interesting example came from Nick Jones, a recently retired professor of English at Oberlin. Professor Jones taught an upper level English class on John Milton, which he brought to the print room of the Allen Memorial Art Museum to examine a selection of nine etchings by Rembrandt.
In small groups they considered the works in terms of size, tone, and reproducibility, as well as the effect of looking at images and comparison-- looking at images in comparison to reading a text. And later he brought that same class and those same lines of inquiry to first-hand examination of early editions of Milton in printed books. Through Rembrandt etchings, in the words of Professor Jones, "students were able to penetrate the core issue of the course, namely the interplay of early modern concerns regarding power, gender, history, kinship, nature, and God."
A final category that emerged was the use of Rembrandt prints as a means to promote visual literacy. Using this tack is a student-run program at the University of Virginia called Heart of Medicine, which offers ends of life education for nursing and medical students. Apparently students didn't feel like they were getting enough instruction in this area. So they have a student-run group to address it.
During sessions at the Fralin Museum of Art, museum staff members lead small groups of students in close looking and provide some background on the objects under consideration. Then a Heart of Medicine discussion leader, usually a doctor, nurse, hospice worker, or chaplain, brings the conversation to end-of-life issues. Jordan Love, the academic curator at the Fralin, relates that one of the most stimulating works for these discussions is Rembrandt's The Raising of Lazarus. Through this print, participants discuss the hope felt by many in this situation, their loved one will come back to life.
Rembrandt's prints also invite discussion of body language and facial expression, and the importance of responding to the information conveyed by such postures when discussing end-of-life care. Although the hospital is only a 10-minute walk from the Fralin, according to Jordan, "this program provides many of these busy students with their introduction to the museum."
From this handful of recent examples, I hope to have demonstrated just some of the wealth of opportunities that exists for teaching with and learning from Rembrandt prints, even outside of our history. For students, the experience of engaging with original works of art can be more than encounter with something beautiful, although it may indeed be that. Such engagement can also serve as a starting point for discussions on almost limitless subjects across time and geography. Rembrandt's prints, capturing as they do the most sublime and earthly moments of human existence, have already begun the conversation. Thank you.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: So we have about 12 minutes for questions. I want to let everyone have time to go to the exhibition afterwards. But I would love it if people have questions to ask any of our speakers up here on the panel, and we can have a great conversation. I hope. Of course if you have questions, we have a microphone ready for you, so just raise your hand. So I will open it to the floor.
OK. I can start with one. All right. I think everyone's tired. So from my perspective-- these are all very diverse perspectives that you've all you've all shared. But personally I see a thread through all of them. First of all, Susan was the one that taught me to look. She was my professor at Vassar. And I remember having a really exceptional experience with the prints in Vassar's collection. So I'm really excited they're here in the exhibition.
And then I've worked with all of you in different capacities professionally in museums. And it seems to me that although you all talk about different aspects of engaging with Rembrandt prints, the real theme-- and it's the theme we've all been talking about today-- is the modes of looking, right? Coming to Rembrandt prints with different questions in mind.
And I guess I kind of wanted to ask an open-ended question, which is how do you feel coming to Rembrandt prints with these various agendas, if we could call them that, how they've changed, how you look at them, or how other people have looked at them. That's a broad question, but if anyone has any thoughts about how it's kind of widened your view of Rembrandt as an artist and a print maker.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: I can talk about-- let me use the microphone. I teach technical connoisseurship, which is looking at the materials and the techniques of the works of art. So it might strike some people as ironic that I looked at a lot of blank paper with no marks on it at all to learn something about Rembrandt. But you can do that.
So I brought something along that should look fairly familiar. No, no, no. I have it upside down on purpose. Students, you know. It's remarkable. It's upside down on purpose because everybody interprets images. Everybody is going to look at this, and I'm going to say what is it. And you're going to say, well, that's Rembrandt's Self-portrait with Saskia. That's what it depicts, but what is it? It's printing ink on paper. That's what it is. In our world it's printing ink on paper.
And I always ask my students to look at things upside down, because this will prevent you, or hopefully slow you down a bit, in recognizing the image and being misled by the image. So I'm asking you to look at the ink, to look at the paper, to look at the texture, and forget the image. Just tell me what it is.
And very quickly you're going to be able to see that, in fact, the ink is wrong, the paper's wrong, the color is wrong, and this is not a contemporary etching by Rembrandt. Even though if you looked at the image, you'd say it was Rembrandt and Saskia. This is an intaglio print. It's a photomechanical reproduction. It's a real engraving. It has a plate mark. So it has some of the characteristics of Rembrandt, but it's not a Rembrandt. So this is how I teach Rembrandt by not using Rembrandts.
SUSAN DONAHUE KURETSKY: I'd like to add to that. I thought I was the only person who turned them upside down. So I'm very happy to hear that you do that, too, but for a slightly different reason. I mean, I learned enormously from what everyone has had to say here today about so-called technical art history.
I'm finding that my students are extremely interested more and more in conservation in areas like this, in which they could go into those realms. But the turning of things upside down, as you say, will remind you that this is ink on paper, and that these are material objects that have to be thought about in certain ways. But to me, I guess it would be a related way of thinking that it's very difficult for students, I think, to not think that what they see in an image is inevitable. You know, it's sort of there it is. It's just right. It seems-- if it's a Rembrandt, it seems you can't imagine anybody doing it better. And so it's as if it hatched out of an egg in some way.
So one of the most difficult things about teaching is actually trying to interfere with that assumption and try to get them to sort of look at it. I say to them sometimes, pretend you're from Mars. You've never seen a human being. You've never seen anything at all. Pretend this is a work of abstract art. Of course, that's doing great violence anything Rembrandt intended.
But if you can just interfere with that connection that immediately makes the assumption that it is what it represents, rather than it is someone's invention of a kind of way of commenting on and helping you to see in a different way what it represents, then that's very exciting. But it's extremely difficult to do. So I'd actually be interested in comments any of you have had, maybe along those lines studying art history or perhaps other related things to do with images.
AUDIENCE: Everyone's talk was terrific. But I also wanted to ask Peggy what she thinks she'll do moving forward with this.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: OK. Well, what I didn't talk about was a lot of the roadblocks. I think it was Eric who pointed out that Rembrandt prints have been frequently washed or pressed or mounted, and they are not-- they have not come down to us over the two centuries the exact same way that they were made in the 17th century.
So we wondered if the washing of the paper and the running through the intaglio press and the drying would change those proportions of the chain line-- the wire, chain wire lines. And so we actually did wash and run one of these papers through a press and dry it. And it still worked. So that we feel fairly confident about.
The problem, of course, is that-- well, first of all, a Rembrandt print not having a watermark hasn't been imaged. Because no one-- there has been heretofore no reason to image it because there's been no watermark. So just getting images of chain lines is very difficult.
And then secondly, there is the fact that, as Eric pointed out, these papers were fairly big, and Rembrandt was going to try to get as many as possible. So clearly you can't match up the chain line patterns of the same paper if they're in different parts of the paper. So but if we get enough-- I think if we get enough and run these through, that sooner we will get some matches which, hopefully, then could then be confirmed with this wonderful wire project that's going to be running simultaneously.
So there have been some glitches. But clearly the thing to do now is to apply it to other discreet bodies of artists' materials-- or artists' works. Like Durr, I would say, is a pretty good bet.
AUDIENCE: That sounds wonderful. One thing I was wondering about, if you're not just focusing, say, on a given artist, but you have papers that look similar, at least in later works, I've found in certain places there's one mold making studio that makes all the molds. So how significant a variation has to be to make it not a twin? I'm not sure.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: The percentage? The deviation? I'm going to have to ask Rick that. What's the deviation that you can have-- well, don't also, don't forget that chain lines are not always parallel. They're often crooked or they get damaged over time. So you do have some deviation of the chain lines across that sheet. But I don't know what the standard deviation is before it doesn't work. Do you know that? I don't know that off the top of my head.
AUDIENCE: I'm not actually asking that. I guess I didn't make it clear. I found papers that were made, obviously, from the same mold maker that their chain lines match up, but they're not necessarily the same paper maker.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: Yeah. Yeah. Was that later paper?
AUDIENCE: And Dutch prints of this period. Do you have a center where they're making all the molds for that region? Not yet. OK. Maybe just with later works.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: Yeah. It may age out.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: All right, we have another question there. Great.
AUDIENCE: This is kind of a follow-up for you, Peggy. It just makes sense. But you're not just measuring the laid lines but also the chain lines, no?
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: We're measuring the chain line intervals. They're the typically verticals. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: But you're not doing the horizontals.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: No. We're not doing horizontals. They're very, very difficult. Well, it's conceivable, but the computer software has learned to, by identifying three points on those chain lines, to set up the lines. Am I saying that right? The laid lines are too closely spaced, difficult-- you're just going to end up with a data overload. Whereas the chain lines are much simpler.
AUDIENCE: I was just thinking that would solve your problem about two prints from opposite sides of the sheet, for instance.
MARGARET HOLBEN ELLIS: Possibly, yeah. Good idea.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: Any other questions?
AUDIENCE: I think the question is for Susan, but it sort of applies to Nadine and Elizabeth. And the question is, in very short form, what do you want your students to see? What is it that you want them to see? What struck me when I was listening to, well, the three of you is that there are, in a way, different angles. One of them, and that's one of the angles that is very popular in museums, is to make the people-- make public relate to the works on the wall by pointing out the concerns that are around and are basically expressed in the works [INAUDIBLE]. A little bit what you were pointing at. But when I try to teach anyone that's willing to listen to me, in the print room in Amsterdam, to look at prints, that's not what I'm--
SUSAN DONAHUE KURETSKY: No. That's a really, really, really good question. It's actually one of the most enormous questions in anything to do with teaching or museum teaching. I don't I don't think I'm trying to make them relate to the things. Actually I'm interested in having them find out how strange they are. I think I'm happy to hear-- well, someone like Rembrandt, it does seem that there are certain kinds of, as we say, human concerns that probably transcend time, at least to some extent. And so I do want them to know the story if there's a story.
But I think the main thing I'm interested in-- I don't think I actually use any different kind of technique of teaching when I'm teaching a survey course, say, something that's contemporary art, then I do Rembrandt. I'm interested that they can detach themselves, I guess, enough from the subject, which would be they're doing more than one thing at once, of course. But they're able to detach themselves enough from the subject and just imagine because they-- students tend to project themselves into something. And so suddenly it's as if they're writing about something as if they're writing about the actual people, as if they were actually standing there or doing this.
Anybody who teaches art history is very familiar with this. I can see that you're nodding with despair often. And so if we can somehow-- we don't want to discourage them from connecting with the things that are the actual story, the actual people, and so on. But there has to be a whole other side of their head-- I'm sure it's another part of their brain, actually, that's operating on a kind of analytical level, that's saying, , oh look at this. That's one whopping beautiful line. I mean, look at the way the shape operates.
And then if you can get them to that, then you suddenly see this enormous kind of light bulb go on overhead. And they say, wow. You know, it's like being hit with a lightning bolt. You suddenly see something in a way that you hadn't before. But it's very difficult to get them to that point.
And I can actually remember having to get to that point myself when somebody finally-- I don't know what the word was, because I'd use it again myself if I could remember it. But something was said-- and probably it was a survey section or something-- you know, why don't you think about it like this. And all of a sudden I said, wow. This is pretend-- this is always becoming, if I could look at that way. It's not just a thing which is dead as an image. It's still becoming if you can see the process leading up to it.
So I think, maybe in some ways, our job is to try to give them the tools to do that process for themselves, if you can connect them a few times. The students here might want to comment on that who've been taking art history courses.
NADINE ORENSTEIN: I would say I'm always interested in technique. And what I try to do when I teach a class in our study room-- and I should say I forgot to mention that our study room is open five days a week to the public. And you're welcome to come view drawings and prints in our collection.
But when we have classes, what I try to express is that these are made by people who-- you see things often on the walls, and you forget that there's an artist sitting there with a blank piece of paper. And he's got to think of a technique, he's got to think of how to do it, and he's got-- he makes mistakes. And he makes things-- he works with his mistakes, and he makes things very intentionally.
And I try to communicate to people what it's like, as far as I can tell, being the artist, coming up with The Three Crosses, or what is going on in his mind. And then you look at it in a different way, I think. So that's what I'm always trying to express.
AUDIENCE: Nadine, I think that was one of the things that we found really interesting with the art students. Because you could walk into a Rembrandt show and be so completely intimidated that you wouldn't want to do anything. You know, it's like, oh, I can't possibly even approach etching or lithography. But the experimental nature of his work, and the way he was so human about it, and you know just carrying around plates and drawing on them freely, and just his humanness and his way of interacting with the medium was really liberating for them. Because they could see him as a person, a young person starting out doing this kind of thing, just like them. And then they were freed. But I think that's a really good point.
NADINE ORENSTEIN: And then one other thing I'd just add to that is that there are challenges to a medium. I mean, showing someone a copper plate and what that looks like, all of a sudden you're realizing they're working backwards. They can't really see what they're working on. I mean, it's all these things that all of a sudden you have this idea of Rembrandt, Van Dyke, everything they do is intentional and sacred, and it's been thought out by the time they put it down. And it's like, no. There's a whole head going on behind this and a lot of things that are unpredictable. And I think that's what I try to express.
ELIZABETH NOGRADY: I think also, maybe that UVA example aside, the typical gallery teaching now is really not about relating yourself to the work, it's about close looking. But what we are doing is kind of removing the content. So we're not talking about Rembrandt from the start. We are starting with the students themselves and we're asking them, what do you see? And that can actually unfold very slowly because it is student generated. It's not educator generated.
And yes, content is introduced over time. But by starting with what do you see, it removes some of the barriers by students who typically are less comfortable in the museum setting, who are less comfortable with art. And personally I've gained so much from hearing what they have to say without all the baggage.
And that's not to say the content is, of course, incredibly important. And I prefer not to do the pure visual thinking strategies where you may not get the content, that method. I think it is important to introduce it. But I think that initial close looking-- and we actively say, don't interpret this. Just tell us what you see. It's incredibly eye opening, even for images that, personally, I've seen a number of times.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: Time for one last question. Anyone else? Yes, Stephanie, right here.
AUDIENCE: I thought, Nadine, the statistics that you showed were very interesting. It chimed with something I heard just last week at the Rembrandt House Museum, ground zero for Rembrandt studies. They have a new director of exhibitions, and he was saying that they have discovered that their demographic of visitors has changed a lot, that they have always assumed that people walk in the door of Rembrandt's house because they know something about Rembrandt. But it's become more-- a lot of their visitors are international, like yours. And it's become more and more people who go there because it's on the itinerary, that the tour guide is leading them through the streets, and it's the next step after the Anne Frank House.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: Supposed to go.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. And so they've got-- they're realizing they have to reorganize a bit how they present things to appeal to people who know they're supposed to be there because Rembrandt is famous, but they don't even know why. And that brings up also the fact that we have so many students now who are not-- who were not raised in the European tradition, who might not have any knowledge of all of this biblical subject matter, for example. And I wonder if anybody has any-- anybody here, actually, has any closing thoughts about how we are going to make all of this more accessible to this increasingly broad audience of students.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: I don't have an answer, but in the interest of letting you have time in the exhibition, I would say let the art speak for itself. Even if you don't understand what the subject is, and you don't know anything about the artist, I think that, particularly with Rembrandt, there's something just basically human there that most people can connect with on some level. And then they can use that as a starting point.
So I do encourage everyone. Thank you so much for bearing with us to the bitter end.
ANDALEEB BADIEE BANTA: And thank you to--
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Afternoon session of the Rembrandt Symposium, 'Learning and Teaching with Rembrandt: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Master Etcher,' which took place at Cornell's Johnson Museum of Art on October 28, 2017.
Introductory remarks: Lisa Pincus, Visiting Assistant Professor, History of Art and Visual Studies, Cornell University
Keynote presentation: Susan Donahue Kuretsky, Professor of Art on the Sarah Gibson Blanding Chair, Vassar College "In Love with Line: Tales of Teaching with Rembrandt"
Panel: "Teaching Rembrandt prints, in and out of the Museum" Moderated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, Curator of European and American Art, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College
Panelists: Nadine Orenstein, Drue Heinz Curator in Charge, Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art"Rembrandt’s Prints at the Met"; Margaret Holben Ellis, Eugene Thaw Professor of Paper Conservation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University"Computational Connoisseurship of Rembrandt’s Prints"; and Elizabeth Nogrady, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Academic Programs, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College "Conversation Starter: Teaching Rembrandt prints outside the art history classroom"