This collection of 14 essays by foremost German scholars represents an interdisciplinary approach to church history and the function of imagery within it. It includes a substantial, posthumously published essay by Christian Tümpel, edited by Astrid Tümpel (pp.187-281), which surveys representations of the Passion by Rembrandt and his circle. The other essays will be of interest particularly to medievalists and those focusing on the emergence of Protestantism. My remarks here are limited to Tümpel’s contribution.
Throughout his scholarship, Tümpel was concerned with the essential question of the relationship of the confessions to the arts in the early modern period, culminating in his monograph on Rembrandt published in German, English and French (1992-1993). In the present essay he focuses on the post-Iconoclastic art production in the Rembrandt circle. His conclusions may not be surprising to those familiar with his earlier publications, and with those of a few other scholars, including Xander van Eck, S.A.C. Dudok van Heel, and Volker Manuth. [See note 13, page 191 for bibliography.]
Tümpel’s conclusions, in brief, are: the effect of Iconoclasm in North Netherlandish art was powerful; following Iconoclasm, the Passion was represented only in prints for some years; after around 1600, paintings of the Crucifixion began to appear, and are conceived of as Andachtsbilder, epitaphs, or altarpieces, for private altars and house-churches. These were evidently – but not always – made for Catholic patrons. Only when Catholic patrons wished a work of the highest quality did they turn to artists who were not Catholic. By relating Rembrandt’s paintings to the poetry of Constantijn Huygens and Jacobus Revius, Tümpel indicates how Rembrandt’s imagery corresponds to contemporary theology. In my view, however, it might be possible to go further in this direction, and propose that the poets were inspired not only by literary, but also visual, sources.
Tümpel’s brief survey of this topic indicates how much more it deserves to be studied. Rembrandt’s own images of the Crucifixion and Lamentation have been well analyzed in recent years, by Martin Royalton Kisch, among others. But how Rembrandt’s own Passion compositions reverberate in the works of his pupils has been less studied, except perhaps in the case of Arent de Gelder. The Crucifixion scenes of Govart Flinck and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout await further attention; both artists clearly refer to Rembrandt’s own works, but also to those of others; the roles, for example, of Italian models and of Pieter Lastman’s own paintings have yet to be clarified in their compositions. The little known Danish artist Heinrich Jansen (1625-1667) either studied with Rembrandt in Amsterdam or had access to his work, and thereafter had a career in Germany; his few known religious works derive from Rembrandt inventions and demonstrate that, around mid-century, there was an appreciation for such clearly derivative paintings ( Christ on the Sea of Galilee, Art Institute of Chicago; two epitaphs published by Tümpel, from 1648 and 1650, figs. 44 and 43).
The pivotal position of Rembrandt in the religious imagery of the Dutch Republic is strengthened, but hardly exhausted, by this study.