Stephanie Dickey, editor of Rembrandt and his Circle, dedicated this volume to Dr. Alfred Bader and Dr. Isabel Bader in 2017. The recent, sad passing of Alfred Bader on 23 December 2018, who contributed so much to Dutch studies as a knowledgeable and astute collector, and generous patron, makes this publication a fitting memorial to his legacy.
Seventeen articles in this book, written by distinguished art historians and museum professionals, employ a variety of approaches to the study of Rembrandt and the artists within his orbit or even further afield. The essays present new material and fresh ideas deserving of discussion, and this review is designed to foreground their contributions.
New Connections: The following essays address the relationships between Rembrandt and other artists, including his pupils. Dudok van Heel’s article is intriguing, since it draws upon documents and visual relationships to suggest that Rembrandt came in contact with Frans Hals in Hendrick Uylenburgh’s workshop. The author makes a good case that Hals’s Meagre Company (1637), which he worked on in Amsterdam, was the source for Rembrandt’s Standard Bearer of 1636 and other works. This ground-breaking idea opens the door to further considerations of possible connections between the two artists. Jaco Rutgers challenges the generally accepted notion that Rembrandt and Jan Van Vliet collaborated on the etchings, The Descent from the Cross (1633) and Christ before Pilate (1633-36), thought to be intended for a Passion series. The author maintains that the only certain connection between the artists is that Van Vliet produced etchings after Rembrandt’s compositions in the 1630s. Martin Bijl’s study of Gerrit Dou offers a method, based on connoisseurship, to separate the early work of Dou from paintings by Isaac de Jouderville and other artists in Rembrandt’s workshop. Bijl especially focuses upon Dou’s “striped” technique and use of yellow pigment that derived from the artist’s work in glass painting. Nadine Orenstein offers insights on Rembrandt’s connections with his students as a printmaker. She demonstrates that only Ferdinand Bol, among the pupils, acquired direct knowledge from the master on etching techniques, such as the use of Japanese paper, drypoint and granular tone; others in the workshop served as assistants in preparing plates, etc. and copied Rembrandt’s prints as a means of learning to draw. Jan L. Leja’s study of Bol’s drawings of the Tobit narrative underscores Bol’s debt to depictions of the theme by Rembrandt and Heemskerck. She well demonstrates how Bol consulted the Dutch Statenbijbel for his biblical interpretations. Peter van der Coelen chiefly focuses upon the iconography of Samuel van Hoogstraten’s etching of 1648, Pilate Refuses to Alter the Title on the Cross, executed just two years after leaving Rembrandt’s workshop. The writer demonstrates that van Hoogstraten borrowed one of his figures in this print from Rembrandt’s seated secretary in the etching, Death of the Virgin, and argues that Rembrandt focused upon the same biblical moment in his painting of 1633, the Munich Raising of the Cross.
Newly-Discovered Attributions, Contexts, and Technical Methods of Investigation: A large portion of this volume examines newly-discovered works attributed to Rembrandt and members of his circle, and explores new contexts that enhance our understanding of the artists who created them. Thijs Weststeijn elaborates upon the tradition of Germanic iconography that underlies Rembrandt’s Conspiracy of the Batavians (1661-62), and also speaks of a rough, Germanic style that influenced Rembrandt. Stefanie Dickey investigates three works that have recently come to light and attributes them to Jan Lievens, produced during his Antwerp period (1635-1644), when he came in contact with Anthony van Dyck and other Flemish artists. Her attributions are well supported by stylistic analysis and the relationship of two works to reproductive prints by Lievens and Anthonie van der Does. She skillfully embeds Lievens within the Antwerp artistic milieu of this period, providing new insights on a phase of his career that has been little studied. Ildikó Ember’s attribution to Jan Van Noordt of a painting in Budapest, Bathsheba at the Deathbed of King David, is convincing in its comparison with the same artist’s Granida and Daifilo. Most relevant to the topic of this volume, the Bathsheba is related to other works depicting this subject from Rembrandt’s circle. Technical studies of X-radiographs and infrared reflectograms by Kaatja Kleinert and Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg demonstrate that the painting in Berlin, Susanna and the Elders of 1630-36, attributed to Rembrandt’s workshop, was actually begun by the master and may be considered his first female nude. Other discoveries by Arie Wallert and Michel van der Laar employ technical methods to reveal stylistic affinities to Rembrandt in a Head of Christ in a private collection, lending support to a new attribution to the painter himself. Another work attributed to Rembrandt’s studio was recently brought to light by Lloyd DeWitt, Head of John the Baptist on a Platter. The head on the plate is strongly reminiscent of other heads of Christ, produced in Rembrandt’s studio beginning around 1648. As a member of the scientific team for the exhibition, “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus ” (2011-12),” I regret that the St. John was not known then, since it would have been an excellent addition demonstrating a continued adherence to the master’s vision of Christ around 1648. The ambitious technical project of Chain Line Pattern Matching, undertaken by C. Richard Johnson, Jr. and others, is extremely important, since it will help scholars date papers that are missing watermarks. Jacquelyn N. Coutré offers a model of scholarship by consulting data on the art market to explain why both Rembrandt and Jan Lievens took up the subjects of landscape painting around 1637-1638.
Rembrandt’s Self Conception as an Artist: Essays by Boudewijn Bakker and Perry Chapman complement one another in their interpretations of Rembrandt’s self-fashioning as an artist. Bakker demonstrates that the artist saw himself as part of a humanistic tradition of Renaissance origin celebrating the universal artist as a virtuoso, an idea repeated in the writings of Karel Van Mander and Constantijn Huygens. Bakker interprets Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at Kenwood as asserting the artist’s universality, and considers his collection as part of the gentlemanly image Rembrandt wished to cultivate. Chapman supports the notion of Rembrandt as a universal painter, but justifiably emphasizes the collection’s role as a “curiosity” about history and the art of the past, both of which were essential to his art. Amy Golahny focuses on Rembrandt’s Hundred Guilder print and brings forth newly discovered Italian sources for details in the etching, mostly drawn from copies of such works as Leonardo’s Last Supper and Raphael’s Morbetto and School of Athens. The author considers these borrowings symptomatic of Rembrandt’s ambition to place himself in rivalry with the great art of the Italian past.
In short, no serious scholar of Dutch studies can fail to consult this excellent selection of essays edited by Stephanie S. Dickey.
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor