Akira Kofuku et al., Rembrandt and the Rembrandt School: The Bible, Mythology and Ancient History. [Cat. exh. The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, September 13 – December 14, 2003.] Text in Japanese. Tokyo: The National Museum of Western Art, 2003. 211 pp, 90 color plates, 133 b&w comparative illustrations. No ISBN.
Akira Kofuku et al. (eds.), Rembrandt and Dutch History Painting in the 17th Century. (Conference Proceedings of September 13-14, 2003). Tokyo: The National Museum of Western Art, 2004. 11 essays in English, 180 pp. No ISBN.
Around a core group of about 10 paintings and 26 prints, the exhibition catalogue of Rembrandt and the Rembrandt School presents a well-chosen number of paintings by artists associated with Rembrandt: Lastman, Jan Pynas, Moeyaert, Lievens, Dou, Flinck, Bol, Victors, Eeckhout, Barent and Carel Fabritius, Van Renesse, Maes, Drost, and De Gelder. Through comparative illustrations of works by Rembrandt, the school paintings are put into a context of theme and style of the master. The selection of school paintings gives prominence to pictures that are otherwise less well known, such as Dou’s Still-Life with Boy Blowing Bubbles (Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art), Lievens’s Christ and the Centurion (The Hague, Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder), and Drost’s Young Man at the Window (Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst).
The conference proceedings consist of eleven essays in English, which provide an overview of the current issues in Rembrandt studies. Akira Kofuku discusses the inherent difficulty of establishing authenticity in the works of any artist, and specifically Rembrandt, by considering various versions of the same subject and workshop participation. He further considers narrative composition and realistic depiction, to show how the reality of Dutch life may be incorporated into history subjects. In some cases, as in the unattributed Holy Family at Night (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, as Rembrandt Workshop) and Maes, Young Woman at the Cradle (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), the boundary is blurred between genre and identifiable historical subject. Taco Dibbets traces the critical fortunes of the 1965 Rijksmuseum acquisition, Holy Family at Night, from its celebration as a Rembrandt to its demotion as workshop by Horst Gerson. First noted in 1722 by Jonathan Richardson Jr., the painting has an illustrious provenance, including the collections of the Duc d’Orleans and Richard Payne Knight. The painting’s popularity remains to indicate how subjectively viewers and critics regard it.
In considering religious history paintings, Volker Manuth concludes that paintings with religious subjects were appreciated by patrons of different denominations. Among Rembrandt’s pupils, only Jan Victors, who belonged to the orthodox wing of the Calvinist church, may be understood to choose biblical subjects related to his faith; Victors restricted himself to Old Testament themes. Jonathan Bikker surveys selected themes of which multiple versions were made in the Rembrandt workshop: the expulsion of Hagar, the angel leaving Tobias and his family, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and Isaac blessing Jacob. He observes that Rembrandt may have assigned certain subjects to his pupils, and they may have combined several motifs from various Rembrandt inventions to arrive at their own original composition. David de Witt examines Aert de Gelder and Jan Steen in light of Houbraken’s Groot Schilderboek, with particular respect to expression, fine and loose handling of paint, and naturalism. He concludes that De Gelder strove to attain the ‘perfect picture,’ one that combined lofty subject matter, the expressiveness of Steen, and the technique of the late Rembrandt (p. 92). Yoriko Kobayashi-Sato discusses Rembrandt’s tronies as actual likenesses intended for use in history paintings; of the 22 tronies listed in Rembrandt’s 1656 inventory, ten were by Rembrandt, and others by Brouwer, Raphael, and Jan van Eyck (p. 98).
Akihiro Ozaki places Rembrandt’s Danae (St. Petersburg, The Hermitage) in its iconographic and seductive contexts, to help explain why this painting is so compelling. Toshiharu Nakamura examines Rembrandt’s competitiveness with Lievens and rivalry with Rubens in the specific case of Samson Blinded (Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut). Erik Hinterding compares Rembrandt’s painted and etched versions of similar subjects, which furthers our understanding of the complex relationship between these media. Marten Jan Bok reconsiders Rembrandt’s fame and his works’ popularity in light of the Dutch art market. By analyzing a sample of Dutch inventories, he demonstrates that, in the course of the seventeenth century, still-lifes, landscapes, and seascapes gained popularity, while biblical subjects and family portraits tended to decline. Rembrandt, who favored biblical subjects, was thus a specialist in a category whose market share was shrinking. This circumstance, combined with Rembrandt’s overspending and mismanaging his finances, contributed to his 1656 bankruptcy.
Taken together, these thoughtful essays cohere in their consideration of the reception and historiography of Rembrandt and his workshop.