Constantijn Huygens’s oft-cited remarks about the young Rembrandt’s (and Lievens’s) disinterest in traveling to Italy, justified in part by the wealth of Italian art that could then be found in the Dutch Republic, have anchored a multitude of studies addressing Rembrandt’s engagement with the work of his predecessors and contemporaries south of the Alps. Over the course of more than three decades, Amy Golahny has contributed numerous publications to this literature. Her latest book, Rembrandt: Studies in His Varied Approaches to Italian Art, encapsulates and builds on her previous studies to offer a comprehensive treatment of the subject.
With the book’s title, Golahny immediately signals the pluralistic nature of Rembrandt’s engagement with Italian art, making clear that it cannot be explained by a single overarching principle or purpose. Instead, Golahny delineates three broad, at times overlapping, categories for understanding Rembrandt’s multivalent borrowing, quotation, and emulation of – as well as deviation from – his models: pragmatic solutions; commentaries; and assertions of an alternative artistic ideal. Various case studies are presented, together with discussions of seventeenth-century attitudes toward travel, the presence of Italian art in the Dutch Republic (and in Rembrandt’s own collection), contemporary perceptions of Rembrandt’s relationship to Italian art, and the artist’s reception in Italy.
The book begins by outlining the long tradition of Northern European artists crossing the Alps, from figures active in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to Rembrandt’s own teachers, contemporaries, and pupils in the seventeenth. In addition to the sojourns of familiar names like Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossart, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Lastman, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck and Joachim von Sandrart, among numerous others, Golahny also details the recorded experiences of Nicholas Stone, an English sculptor and architect of Dutch descent who, with his brother, sojourned in Italy between 1638 and 1642. Stone’s diary entries, together with various seventeenth-century comments on the dangers and seductions posed to youth abroad, offer a sense of the contemporary expectations and tropes surrounding travel that would have informed Rembrandt’s decision not to make the trip. As the chapter proceeds to make clear, however, Rembrandt was just one of many artists of his generation who, by choice or otherwise, never set foot south of the Alps. As Golahny notes, even several of the so-called Dutch Italianates – Berchem and Cuyp among them – had only “second-hand” knowledge of the Italian landscapes they evoked in their golden-hued paintings. The idea that Rembrandt’s and Lieven’s reluctance to travel reflects a generational trend is compelling. Golahny notes, for example, that Philips Angel makes no mention of travel as a necessary stage of an artist’s development. Even Samuel van Hoogstraten, who did spend time in Italy, and Gerard de Lairesse, are ambivalent about the importance of the experience. Huygens’s remarks – which ultimately position Dutch art as surpassing that of Italy – may reflect a widespread sentiment that the Dutch Republic, and especially the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam, had become the new artistic epicenter of Europe.
This first chapter also paints a vivid picture of the presence and accessibility of Italian art in the Dutch Republic in the period. Woven into this discussion of specific collections and of art works that were circulating on the Amsterdam art market are contemporary Dutch writings on this material. Golahny shows how Van Mander’s discussion in Het Schilder-Boeck (1604) would have offered collectors – Rembrandt among them – a Dutch-language guide to the art of Italy. Rembrandt’s collecting practices (discussed in more detail in a subsequent chapter) are then compared to Sandrart’s. Unsurprisingly, while the latter focused on representative works by canonical artists, Rembrandt was drawn to wide-ranging imagery by both famous and lesser-known figures, reflecting his voracious – and omnivorous – appetite for art.
Chapter Two reviews seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century remarks about Rembrandt vis-à-vis Italy, including those of Huygens, Sandrart, Gerard De Lairesse, Andries Pels, Arnold Houbraken, Jeremias de Decker, and Wybrand de Geest. Whether positioning Rembrandt’s work in opposition to Italian art or making analogies between the two, these varied remarks make clear that the work of Raphael, Titian, and Michelangelo represented the gold standard against which Rembrandt’s art was measured, while Caravaggio, to whom Houbraken aptly likens Rembrandt, is a counterexample to the “true” Italian ideal. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Rembrandt’s “goal in art.” Here, Golahny frames even Rembrandt’s most overt quotations and parodies of Italian (and ancient) art not as ends unto themselves but as tactics for his larger artistic ambitions. Citing the work of Eric Jan Sluijter and Thijs Weststeijn in particular, she characterizes Rembrandt’s evolving interests (from his apparent quest for vivid, lifelike action early in his career to his shift toward quieter but emotion-laden work later in his career) in relation to rhetoric and theater. She thus fits Rembrandt’s complex engagement with Italy into some of the prevailing understandings of the arc of his career, rather than use her findings to challenge those understandings.
While brief discussions of individual works appear in the foregoing chapter (among them the Stoning of Saint Stephen, Blinding of Samson, Abduction of Ganymede, and Nightwatch), Golahny launches into more extended analyses in the next three – the heart of her study. After outlining Rembrandt’s collection, as known from his 1656 inventory, Chapter Three explores the artist’s drawn copies of compositions by Mantegna, Titian, Leonardo, and Polidoro da Caravaggio; his variations on Italian prototypes in drawings and prints depicting Homer, Jupiter and Antiope, Isaac and Rebecca, St. Jerome, and St. Francis; and his delightful quotation in the Pancake Woman of the cupid in Raphael’s Galatea – this last case framed as a life study fused with art. As Golahny emphasizes, much of Rembrandt’s collection, and the majority of the broader repertory of Italian art he consulted, was on paper – some original drawings, but also copies and reproductive prints. This presents a picture of a predominantly monochromatic representation of Italian art, explaining Golahny’s caution against drawing too close an analogy between Rembrandt’s brushwork and Titian’s (p. 67) and, more interestingly, pointing to the contemporary valuing of – and faith in – reproductive art. For motifs and compositional devices, copies and reproductions could theoretically serve equally well as the originals. Similarly, as this chapter concludes and as has been much discussed, casts of ancient statuary in Rome also played a role in Rembrandt’s work, at times substituting for live models.
The fourth chapter begins with seventeenth-century art theory about appropriation and the concepts of imitatio and emulatio, and then proceeds to discuss Rembrandt’s pragmatic borrowings – and often transformations – of motifs and compositional devices from works by Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, and Van Dyck (his Italian and English oeuvres). A particularly interesting case is Rembrandt’s double portrait of Jan Rijcksen and Griet Jans (Royal Collection, London). While maintaining the previously established link between this work and Thomas de Keyser’s portrait of Constantijn Huygens in the company of a messenger or servant (National Gallery, London), Golahny identifies an even more compelling model: Guercino’s Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), in the Reynst brothers collection in Amsterdam by 1630. The urgency with which Griet Jans alerts her husband to the missive in her hand and the fascinating gender dynamic in the portrait bear complex but vivid relationships with the Guercino.
Rembrandt’s appropriations for commentary are the focus of the next chapter, for which Golahny invokes Jürgen Müller’s concept of “inverse citation” – allusions geared toward subversion or irony. She proceeds with an intriguing but somewhat perplexing case involving Rembrandt’s supposed incorporation of Titian’s portrait in the early Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (Pushkin Museum, Moscow), followed by several instances in which Rembrandt appropriated Italian treatments of pagan imagery for his depictions of Christian subjects. While the present author is inclined to find commentary in much of Rembrandt’s work, it is difficult to see in the latter cases the moral messages – or demonstrations of “Christianity’s superiority and supplanting of pagan antiquity” – that Golahny discerns (p. 157). Rembrandt did the same with his own work – using, for example, some of the fleshy nudes in his Diana with Actaeon and Callisto as models for the cherubim in his Annunciation to the Shepherds. Surely more than pragmatic solutions (to use Golahny’s term), could the numerous recognizable quotations in the Hundred Guilder Print, for example, have been intended as a demonstration of the artist’s erudition and wit? Or, in the vein of Ernst van de Wetering’s and Eric Jan Sluijter’s frameworks for understanding Rembrandt’s work, a fun challenge or game for knowledgeable liefhebbers and fellow artists? Regardless, the fluidity of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman imagery in Rembrandt’s work is a fascinating subject worthy of further examination.
Commentary – in the form of articulation and assertion of artistic principles – seems very much at play in the works discussed in Chapter Six. In these cases of deviation from either specific models or from types of imagery (like the pastoral idyll), Rembrandt asserts a Dutch alternative, or perhaps more accurately a Rembrandt alternative to the Italian ideal (which, again, for most seventeenth-century Dutch critics, did not include Caravaggio). This is of course most apparent in Rembrandt’s treatments of the female nude, as studied extensively by Eric Jan Sluijter. In works like the Danaë (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), Rembrandt’s allusions to Titian and others serve to put in relief his very different, supremely lifelike approach to rendering flesh.
The book’s final chapter focuses on Rembrandt’s reception in Italy through a thorough and lucid discussion of the Ruffo commission – itself a reflection of the Dutch artist’s fame south of the Alps. It is clear from the work of Castiglione and (as discussed earlier in the book, see pp. 58–62) Stefano della Bella that Rembrandt’s prints circulated widely. Direct knowledge of his paintings was of course much more limited. The arrival in Messina of the canvases Rembrandt painted for Sicilian nobleman Antonio Ruffo in the 1650s and early 1660s – the Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the Alexander the Great (lost), and the Homer (Mauritshuis, The Hague) – constituted a major convergence in the careers of Rembrandt and Guercino, Mattia Preti, Salvator Rosa, and Giacinto Brandi – the Italian artists from whom Ruffo commissioned paintings to serve as pendants to his Rembrandts – and Abraham Brueghel, the Flemish-born artist-agent who facilitated some of these commissions. Incorporated into discussion of their interactions with Ruffo and occasional remarks concerning Rembrandt is an interesting analysis of the term “gagliarda.” Describing a manner of painting characterized by strong chiaroscuro and a forceful plasticity, the term had long been associated with the work of Tintoretto and Caravaggio. This manner, arguably brought to new heights by Rembrandt, would not persist in Italian art. While surely a matter of changing tastes, it is tempting to see, as Brueghel’s begrudging acknowledgment of the superiority of Rembrandt’s “heads” could suggest, that the Dutch artist’s “maniera gagliarda” was perceived as so inimitable, it discouraged other artists from adopting it. Certainly, as this book makes very clear, Rembrandt’s frequent and creative engagement with Italian art was combined with a singular vision and hand, such that he produced a body of work entirely unlike that of any artist before or since.
This is a generous book, clearly aimed at sharing the wealth of information and knowledge Golahny has amassed over the years and at offering a solid, balanced foundation on which future generations may develop new analyses and interpretations. With its comprehensive bibliography, thorough citations, and even explicit guidance on how Golahny’s discussions relate to the existing literature, it is a highly valuable reference for any student of Rembrandt’s work. Its ample illustrations support the author’s visual arguments and make the book accessible to those less familiar with the material. Readers may be frustrated by the quality of some of the reproductions but seeing as this is presumably the result of the sustainable manner in which the book was evidently printed, and as most of the works illustrated can be consulted online, this is a small price to pay for an ethically produced book and one of many reasons to applaud its publication.
Joanna Sheers Seidenstein
Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Curatorial Fellow Harvard Art Museums
 See for example Amy Golahny, “Rembrandt’s Early ‘Bathsheba’: The Raphael Connection,” in The Art Bulletin 65, no. 4 (1983): 671-75; “Rembrandt’s ‘Ruts’ and Moroni’s ‘Bearded Man,’” in Source: Notes in the History of Art 10, no. 1 (1990): 22-25; “Rembrandt’s Practical Approach to Italian Art: Three Variations,” in The Low Countries 7 (1999): 123-31; “Heemskerck’s Angel in Rembrandt’s Studio,” in Canadian Journal for Netherlandic Studies 28 (2007): 38-52; “Rembrandt and Italy: Beyond the disegno/colore Paradigm,” in Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, Neue Folge 51 (2009): 113–20; “Italian Paintings in Amsterdam: Additions to the Familiar,” in Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 5, no. 2 (summer 2013); and “Rembrandt’s Dialogue with Italian Art: The Shipbuilder and is Wife of 1633,” in Breaking New Ground in Art History: A Festschrift in Honor of Alicia Faxon, ed. Margaret Hanni (Washington, D.C.: New Academia Publishing, 2014), 9-31.
 See also Amy Golahny, “Rembrandt’s Dialogue with Italian Art: The Shipbuilder and is Wife of 1633,” in Breaking New Ground in Art History: A Festschrift in Honor of Alicia Faxon, ed. Margaret Hanni (Washington, D.C.: New Academia Publishing, 2014), 9-31.
 Jürgen Müller, “Een antieckse Laechon: Ein Beitrag zu Rembrandts ironischer Antikenrezeption,” in Dissimulazione onesta oder die ehrliche Verstellung, ed. Michael Diers (Hamburg: Philo, 2007), 105-30. See also Jürgen Müller, Der sokratische Künstler: Studien zu Rembrandts Nachtwache (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015), which is cited in Golahny’s notes but is omitted from the bibliography.
 Eric Jan Sluijter, Rembrandt and the Female Nude (Amsterdam University Press, 2006).
 While there is still some debate, Rembrandt’s painting of an armored figure in Glasgow was in England by 1764, while the Ruffo Alexander is recorded as remaining in Messina at least through 1783. (See Jeroen Giltaij, “Nieuws omtrent Ruffo en Rembrandt,” Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis (2015): 47–49, citing the publication of the 1783 Ruffo inventory in Rosanna De Gennaro, Per il collezionismo del Seicento in Sicilia: L’inventario di Antonio Ruffo Principe della Scaletta (Pisa: Scuola normale superiore, 2003).) The painting of a similar armored figure in Lisbon was similarly in Paris by 1780. (See Jonathan Bikker and Gregor J.M. Weber, et al., Rembrandt: The Late Works (London: National Gallery; Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2014), 278n25.)