his special volume of the Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen presents nineteen essays derived from papers delivered at a symposium held in Berlin during the Rembrandt Year of 2006. The worldwide celebration of Rembrandt’s four-hundredth birthday prompted literally hundreds of museum exhibitions but relatively few significant scholarly studies, to which this volume is a welcome addition. Taken together, these essays, some in German and some in English, offer a stimulating cross-section of current research on the art of Rembrandt and his circle. Each essay is preceded by a concise abstract, and all are accompanied by good quality black-and-white illustrations. In keeping with the format of a journal volume, there is no comprehensive bibliography or index.
In several essays, archival or contextual investigation sheds new light on Rembrandt’s relationships and role in the art market. Ben Broos presents findings from his recent archival research on Saskia van Uylenburgh and her family. Mirjam Alexander-Knotter examines Rembrandt’s use of Hebrew inscriptions, while Gary Schwartz takes a broader look at the artist’s relationship to Judaism; both essays cast doubt on the traditional presumption of a sympathetic relationship between Rembrandt and his Jewish contemporaries. Marten Jan Bok and Tom van der Molen jointly present results of statistical analysis comparing Rembrandt’s productivity with that of Jacob Backer, Ferdinand Bol, and Govert Flinck, all of whom competed with him in the Amsterdam market for portraits and history paintings; their objective charts and graphs produce the intuitive thesis that Rembrandt was a procrastinator whose pace slackened in the absence of direct pressure to bring his work to completion.
The religious context of Rembrandt’s work is addressed by David De Witt, who situates works by the young Rembrandt and Jan Lievens in the context of religious controversy between Remonstrants and Calvinists in Leiden, and by Thomas Ketelsen, who argues that the so-called Passion cycle, now in Munich, should really be considered a “Resurrection cycle” (Auferstehungszyklus) for which the lost Circumcision provides the missing link. A very different approach to a biblical history painting is that of Katja Kleinert and Claudia Laurenze-Landsberg, who present results of technical analysis revealing that Rembrandt made radical compositional changes in the course of painting Samson and Delilah (1628, Berlin).
Several essays address Rembrandt’s portraiture and self-portraiture. Rudi Ekkart demonstrates affinities between Rembrandt’s portrait style of the early 1630s and that of contemporaries such as Pickenoy and De Keyser. Walter Liedtke presents discoveries resulting from his recently-published catalogue of Dutch paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, most significantly the identification of the sitter in Man with a Magnifying Glass as Pieter Haaringh, whose portrait Rembrandt also etched in 1655. Dagmar Hirschfelder examines the relationship between tronies and commissioned portraits in fancy dress. Martin Sonnabend interprets the etched Self-Portrait with Saskia (1636) as a somewhat melancholic meditation on the relationship between artist and model. Jeroen Giltaij reports that the recent cleaning and technical examination of Man in a Red Cap (Rotterdam) confirms earlier doubts about its attribution to Rembrandt. Attribution is also the topic for Benjamin Binstock, who assigns four quite diverse paintings to Rembrandt’s pupil Carel Fabritius.
Rembrandt’s engagement with Italian art is the subject of essays by Matthias Winner (Raphael’s School of Athens as a source for The Hundred Guilder Print), Werner Busch (Rembrandt, Guercino, and a shared interest in caricatural physiognomy), Amy Golahny (Rembrandt and the disegno-colore paradigm), and Christian Tico Seifert (Leonardo’s Last Supper, combined with a Marriage at Cana engraved by Jan Wierix, as an inspiration for Wedding Feast of Samson [1638, Dresden]).
Art theory of the seventeenth century plays a role in two essays: Rudolf Preimesberger places Rembrandt’s early historical compositions Raising of Lazarus (Los Angeles) and Judas returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver (priv. coll., UK) in the framework of rhetoric and poetics, while Eric Jan Sluijter argues that the classicist critique of Rembrandt originated well before the 1670s, and that Rembrandt must have taken a deliberate stand against the idealizing style introduced into Amsterdam by artists such as Joachim von Sandrart. Meanwhile, the practice of theory in its twenty-first century form is absent from this volume. Indeed, for the most part, the methodologies demonstrated are either surprisingly conventional (identification of sources) or strikingly practical (statistical, archival, technical). The field of Rembrandt studies is safe with such solid scholarship, and there is much of value in this volume, but perhaps a little less safety will produce a little more excitement as we move toward the next Rembrandt anniversary. As these essays show, there will always be more to discover about this endlessly fascinating artist.