Despite the prodigious amount of scrutiny given to the documentation pertaining to Rembrandt’s life and works during the last century and a half, there is still much to be done. The present volume examines several documents that have certainly been known, but overlooked, in the critical literature about the artist. The result is an enrichment of contemporary reaction to Rembrandt, and a more secure, and positive, reception to the artist in the eighteenth century. A note of caution: the English summary is useful as a guide to the conclusions presented in the seven chapters; however, it does not provide the evidence, the methodical reasoning, and the full analysis of the material presented. The last chapter, which is the least art historical, may be mentioned first. Charles Peirce (1839-1914), an American philosopher, developed a theory of deduction, induction, and abduction: a means of developing an argument concerning the reading and reliability of a document and its interpretation. Roscam Abbing applies this method to the documents concerning Rembrandt, tests his hypotheses against Peirce’s logic, and invites the reader to follow this method back into the preceding chapters. The reader who wishes not to do so may be assured that this method has strengthened the argument presented by the author.
The documents presented in the previous six chapters are:
1: Samuel van Hoogstraten’s allegorical play on the Peace of Münster, which contains a reference to Rembrandt having painted a Bacchanal upon gold leather. Although this play was published in 1648, it has been truly neglected in the critical literature. Van Hoogstraten’s 1678 treatise has overshadowed in bulk and importance his other writings. The 1648 play was not incorporated into the Rembrandt documents, published and collected by Hofstede de Groot (1906), Slive (1953) and Strauss/Van der Meulen (1979). The author investigates this reference, through corollary visual and textual material, in order to reinforce Baldinucci’s statement of 1686 that Rembrandt painted mythological scenes upon the walls of an Amsterdam merchant’s house. Baldinucci based his life of Rembrandt on the information given to him by Bernhard Keil; often, that has been regarded as suspect or unsubstantiated. Yet by putting together the evidence provided by Van Hoogstraten and Keil, the author makes a very good case.
2: Clement de Jonghe’s 1679 inventory, which contains a list of 74 titles of prints by Rembrandt, including one “Wandelende Vaeder Abraham.” This is interpreted here to indicate a school etching of an old, turbaned and robed man, holding a walking stick.
3: Roger de Piles’s anecdote of a painting of a servant girl, hung from a window of Rembrandt’s house. This image was so deceptive that passers-by called out to the painting, thinking it was the servant. By reasoning with the assigned values of composition, line, colour, and expression, in the manner of De Piles, Roscam Abbing proposes that the Dulwich Young Woman Leaning on a Sill is the picture in question. This argument involves a wide-ranging discussion of the topoi of trompe-l’oeil painting in general, the meaning of the term ‘houding,’ and the expectations associated with painting that succeeds in deceiving the viewer.
4: Houbraken’s 1713 Philalèthes Brieven, a publication known to scholars but somehow not examined earlier, perhaps because the lives and inserts in the Groote Schouburgh were found more suitable to their arguments. Here this text is analysed to show how respectfully Houbraken regarded Rembrandt’s art, and how he used it as an example of artists who did not adhere to their own experience in representing histories. In this letter Houbraken applied classicistic standards to Rembrandt, to find his art lacking in veracity. Houbraken’s 1713 commentary on Rembrandt’s etching Adam and Eve has art criticism as its goal; but Houbraken’s negative treatment of Rembrandt’s personality in the Groote Schouburgh of 1718 may well originate in anecdotal legend, with perhaps more truth than has hitherto been suspected or admitted.
5. and 6: The paintings considered to be by Rembrandt in the collections of the Polish count Charles Henry d’Hoym and the Parisian connoisseur Jean de Jullienne. During their years of acquiring pictures, both collectors would have bought the best Rembrandts they could find; seven were owned by d’Hoym and thirteen by de Jullienne. The identification of their pictures, many now de-attributed, is a process revealing taste, stylistic expectations, and values.
This book, elegantly produced, demonstrates not only methodological soundness but also the possibilities of scholarly discovery. The texts of Van Hoogstraten’s 1648 play and Houbraken’s 1713 letter are reprinted in full in the appendices. Another point: some of this material first appeared in the Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis, a publication occasionally overlooked, as Hoogstraten’s allegory and Houbraken’s letter have been overlooked, despite its critical contribution to Rembrandt studies.
Available from the publisher, or contact the author: Balistraat 107-III/ 1094 JG Amsterdam, Nederland/ tel.and fax: +31 (0)20-666 24 36.