SPEAKER 1: Let us end with two of his greatest plates. Christ Presented to the People and The Three Crosses, both from the 1650s. Rembrandt had addressed the subject of Christ Presented to the People 20 years before in the highly Baroque work of 1636. Here, a convex curve of figures streams out towards us and then recedes into the crowd behind. A forest of spears clusters around Christ head, as young and old press forward, gesture, argue, and show their weapons. In the far left stands a column with a statue of the Roman emperor on top, looking suspiciously like the reigning head of the Dutch state, Frederic Henry, in Rembrandt's own time.
When the artist returns to the subject 20 years later, in 1655, he keeps many of the same elements-- the crowd, the soldiers, the cruelty, indifference and disputes, the bewilderment of Pilot, but the whole mood has changed. There is no convex stream of people surging towards us, but a massive building, symmetrical, with its main platform parallel to the picture plane, and the crowd of figures arranged around it and almost dwarfed by it.
A mother plays with a child. Another child peers around the corner at the drama. A woman watches quietly from a window. A young fellow with a feathered hat, who looks like the young Rembrandt, gestures on the left, as an evil, Boschian old man whispers in his ear. St. Peter is isolated on the right, watching in consternation. And Pilot's hand is in the dead center of the composition, offering Christ, and asking the crowd for its decision.
Perhaps the high point of Rembrandt's printmaking is reached in his Three Crosses. As I mentioned before, every time an artist makes a change on the copper plate it is called a new state. Sometimes these changes are minor, of interest mainly to the specialist. In this case, however, the changes in state are dramatic and they transform the whole image. The early state of The Three Crosses from 1653, present the drama of Christ's death among a crowd of figures-- the kneeling centurion on the left, converted in this final moment, is balanced by the women on the right, clustered around the grieving virgin.
St. John tear as that his hair above her, while other figures, believers, turbaned orientals, soldiers, come and go all around them, as the sacred light from above cascades down, cutting through the enveloping darkness at noon. Extraordinary as this image is, it pales next to the following state, the fourth, which was executed several years later, probably about 1660.
Now, Rembrandt has rethought the whole plate, and plowed into it with his drive point tool, touring up thick burr, or curlicues of copper on either side of the lines, which catch the ink and make a wonderfully thick, velvety line. All the elements from the earlier state are still here-- the three crosses, the soldiers, John, and the Virgin Mary. But they are now transformed, isolated in a kind of silent nightmare.
Above all, the play of light and shadow has taken on even greater meaning. Light and shadow have become virtually three dimensional, tangible objects. Black shadows emanate from Christ and light falls from above like sheets of ice or glass. The ghosts of the figures in the earlier states move almost invisibly underneath the dark, heavy lines of the state, creating a feeling of tension and unease throughout the composition. The gestures of the few figures we see clearly become simple and emblematic, filled with meeting. The whole image is one of pain, and revelation, and redemption.
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This room celebrates the etchings of Rembrandt van Rijn, the great seventeenth-century Dutch painter, draftsman, and printmaker. His etchings, over 200 of them, have an extraordinary range of subject, from beggars and rat catchers to portraits of distinguished politicians and businessmen, from the Old and New Testaments to mythology and genre subjects, as well as many self-portraits and portraits of his family. The room also includes a demonstration of the making of an etching.
This video is part 7 of 9 in the Rembrandt's Etchings series.