Aug 232010
Letter from a student

Letter from a student

Aug 232010
My experiments with maquettes and mirrors have given me a fresh insight
into Rembrandt's modus operandi; which give me a true grasp of his
strengths and weaknesses. Even sensitive scholars relying on instinct
cannot rival this knowledge. The fact that my findings are entirely in
accord with the documents of his contemporaries and near contemporaries;
must add considerably to their credibility. My findings are completely
at odds with today's “experts”.

In his introduction to the Dover edition of the “Drawings of Rembrandt”
and his School, Prof. Slive sites the near unanimity as reason for
giving extra credence to scholarly opinion. I would argue, on the
contrary, that it demonstrates the hopelessly hierarchical system of
promotion within the discipline of art history: a structure that
systematically eliminates any heresy.

[My own experience as a rising star that was subverted by the unanimous
voice of the Rembrandt “experts” I need not repeat here.
Suffice it to say that without the democratizing influence of internet
my voice would have been effectively silenced. The other media have not
given me space for over 25 years though my discovery was once hailed as
“The Rembrandt Revelation” by The Observer. Apparently the “experts” can
successfully defend the indefensible by drowning my solid evidence with
the sheer volume of their babble. The present volume is a striking
example of this phenomenon.]

Criticism of The Biblical Subjects

I limit myself to the Biblical Subjects because that is where my
evidence is grounded. This catalogue breaks with normal precedent by not
making it clear just how far it strays from earlier scholarly opinion.
It strays very far indeed. Over 20 of the drawings here attributed to
pupils were accepted by Otto Benesch in 1954. In not one single case can
the student suggested by these authors be shown to have even a hint of
Rembrandt's characteristic gifts, nor for that matter, his weaknesses. I
will attempt to define these as we look at the examples.

Lot being let out of Sodom by an angel

B.129 Lot being led out of Sodom by an angel

Example 1. A drawing of Lot and his family being led out of Sodom by an Angel, was accepted as a Rembrandt by Benesch, B.129 in his 1954 catalogue. It has been re-attributed to one Jan Victors, of whom few people will ever have heard, nor is there any proof that he was ever a student of Rembrandt's. His paintings are undoubtedly Rembrandt inspired in colour and tone but his idea of form is much more classical than Rembrandt's. The two Victors drawings reproduced in the catalogue to back the re-attribution have nothing in common with this, other than the use of brown ink as a medium. They are feeble by any standard. This (B.129) on the other hand is characteristic of Rembrandt in two important respects: Lot himself is typical of Rembrandt when drawing from life – the clasped hands are an oft recurring item – the head is typical, particularly in the modification of the line of the forehead, which turns Lot slightly in our direction so he does not present us with a pure profile.
B.129 Lot's face

B.129 Lot's face

His stance is suitably expressive of discomfort, his cloak recognisable from Rembrandt's theatrical wardrobe. But most characteristic of Rembrandt are the accompanying figures behind Lot. They are not observed from life but invented and therefore “ worthless in his (Rembrandt's) eyes”. I know of no other artist but Rembrandt who would be prepared to demonstrate just how worthless he is “without life in front of him”. For me the pose of the leading angel is of a different and superior order, he probably has been sketched from life. The very different quality of these figures make it certain that Benesch was right and the present authors, dangerously misleading.
Mother Suckling a baby

B.359 Mother Suckling a baby

Example 2. A mother suckling a baby B.359 is one of Rembrandt's most lovely drawings. If anyone can accept that Bol might possibly have drawn the “Hagar and the Angel” the subject matter of my film then of course there is no reason why Bol should not have drawn many of Rembrandt's greatest successes, however, the quality of his real drawing
Bol: Hagar and the Angel

Bol: Hagar and the Angel

and the pathetic quality of his painted Hagar make this quite impossible. Bol's box of drawings in the Rijksmuseum does, alas, contain many of Rembrandt's most precious pearls.
Jesus mistaken for a gardener

b.537 Jesus mistaken for a gardener

Example 3. also now attributed to Bol once B.537, of Christ mistaken for a gardener, is another splendid example of the way Rembrandt can catch, with a few well selected directions of limbs and perfect sense of balance, a most relaxed pose. Vintage Rembrandt, an unerring sense of space.
Esau sells his birthright

B.564 Esau sells his birthright

Example 4. of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowel of potage, B.564 could hardly be more typical of Rembrandt, particularly as the second superfluous bowel suggest that the drawing is loosely based on a mirror image.
Attributed to Flink

B.121 An actor being crowned. Now attributed to Flinck

B.122 a Bishop

B.122 a Bishop: attributed to Eeckout

Examples 5 & 6 B.121 & B.122 are infinitely closer to Rembrandt's many drawings of actors than to anything known from Flinck or Eeckout to whom they are now re-attributed. This madness must be stopped! I could go on and on but this is probably enough for now.
Aug 232010
The Ghislaine singing course was such a success that we have created
this new chapter of the blog for music. Hoping that other similar groups
will use our premises as well. We have already booked Ghislaine for two
courses next year.

Some of the comments from her course were:-

This was the perfect place for us to stay and make music. Thank you so
much for having us and making this week so memorable and enjoyable.

Your center is ideal as a backdrop and stimulates synergy amongst us.

What a marvelous place!

Con gratitudine.

Grazie, grazie, grazie.
Aug 182010

We have had a delightful group of singers, led by Ghislaine Morgan, staying and rehearsing at Verrocchio. It turns out that the accoustics of the large painting studio are very good to sing in. There are 20 people in the choir and this is near the maximum we can deal with here.

The course will end with two concerts: the first here on 18th August 9.30 in the Collegiata and the second in the duomo of Volterra 19th August 18.30. music mainly of Palastrina & Bianciardi.


Aug 172010

See transcript below for ease of reading.
begermann letter

New York Univerersity
Institute of Fine Arts
1 East 78th Street
New York

Mr Nigel Konstam
40 Norland Square
Holland Park
London W11

February 27, 1978

Dear Nigel,

I have only a weak excuse for returning your manuscript after such a long delay.  The only reason I can find for postponing my reply to you is the consideration whether I should be frank at the risk of disappointing you.

I must confess that I am not convinced at all by your supposition that Rembrandt used mirrors, neither by your hypothesis of his availing himself of models for his religious subjects, nor by your re-attribution of a considerable number of drawings to Rembrandt.  Also, in reference to a later letter of yours, I cannot see the use of mirrors in Velasquez.  I know that you feel strongly about your opinions.  I feel equally strongly about mine.  The main reason for my not accepting your first hypothesis, is the absence of any evidence indicating the existence of mirrors large enough to reflect entire figures in the seventeenth century.  Enlarging Rembrandt’s work is contrary to our improving understanding of the extent of Rembrandt’s work.

As you realize, I have not yet referred to your second hypothesis, namely that Rembrandt used live models in certain configurations which he sketched or painted from different points of view.  I believe that your observation of the  frequency of figural groups depicted from different angles is a real contribution to our understanding of seventeenth century art.  Since you pointed out this phenomenon in your manuscript – and this may be a benefit of my delaying a reply – and after having read your article in the Burlington Magazine, I have come to learn to recognize the same phenomenon in the work of Rubens.  You will agree with me that in various instances in different periods of his career, Rubens represented the same figure seen from a different angles apparently without using a drawing or other model.

I believe that the value of your discovery is the following.  It is insufficiently realized that Rembrandt and Rubens, and probably many of their contemporaries, had the ability to imagine or recall the position of one or more figures in space and sketch them or paint them whenever the need presented iself.  This retentive visual memory may be a charcteristic feature of seventeenth century art.  I believe that it would be of great use to the history of art if you would elaborate on this discovery of yours.  To put it differently.  I believe that your explanation of the phenomenon by postulating the existence of mechanical means in mirrors is wrong, but that the phenomenon itself exists and can be explained differently, the concepts of space in the era of the Baroque had their own characteristics which need to be redefined.

Since Andrew Wilton was involved in our discussions, I am sending him a copy of this letter.

Sincerely yours,


Aug 152010

There was an exhibition at The Rembrandthuis at the turn of the year 84/85 that gave ample reason to fear the madness that has now been carried through with a vengeance at the Getty. Nonetheless the devastation of Rembrandt’s portfolio has left me dumbfounded. The level of corporate madness is beyond belief, The Director of the Getty welcomes this volume, “Drawings by Rembrandt and his Pupils, telling the difference” as ’stunning and momentous’ I agree but not in the sense that Michael Brand probably intends.

Anyone who approaches this enormous volume in the hope of understanding what distinguishes the greatest master from his pupils will be sorely disappointed. In the majority of cases there is no difference because the specimens held up as by pupils are the result of recent re-attribution and are clearly by Rembrandt himself. As a result we see the master as surrounded by little known nonentities who could, when they felt like it, turnout masterpieces which had fooled generations of experts but not apparently Mr. Schatborn and his colleagues. The arrogance takes one’s breath away.

Rembrandt scholarship of the last 50 years has been an escalating disaster, Benesch’s catalogue of 1954, which I would wish to enlarge has been reduced by approximately 50% and the resulting bonanza of master drawings handed out indiscriminately to obviously unworthy students. Indeed, in some cases they cannot even be shown to have been students. The idea that anyone has the ability to suddenly turn out a drawing that has passed for a Rembrandt because of its penmanship and sharpness of observation and then chosen to revert back to their middling talent is just too absurd. This catastrophe can only have resulted from the inbreeding of Rembrandt scholarship. No new blood or ideas are allowed to enter. The Rembrandt Mafia have hermetically sealed themselves from the intrusion of advice from the practitioners.

No draughtsman could possibly go along with the recent misjudgments, where some of Rembrandt’s finest drawings have been handed out to mediocrities or, in the case of Carel Fabritius, to a fine painter who had not previously shown a talent for drawing. There is no evidence whatever that these scholars have the least idea of what makes a great drawing (see for details).

Some of the reproductions in this lavishly produced volume are so small as to preclude the necessary comparisons. Common sense forces me to believe that scholarship since my article in “The Burlington Magazine” February 1977 is not only misguided but verging on fraudulent. Anyone contemplating a libel action on the strength of this statement should study that article and the letter from Prof. E.Haverkamp Begerman which conveniently summarizes the false assumptions on which Rembrandt scholars have continued to destroy Rembrandt in the face of my own evidence and the unanimous voice of Rembrandt’s contemporaries.

The crucial points are

1.Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush-stroke without a living model before his eyes”(Houbraken). Or, “Our great Rembrandt was of the same opinion that one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes.” (Karel van Mander as reported by Houbraken) and there are many more quotes of the same character. The scholars would have us believe exactly the opposite: that Rembrandt actually taught his students to invent, not to observe.

  1. The evidence in My article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that these statements are remarkably accurate. The proof of groups of live models in Rembrandt’s studio for the Biblical and other group subjects is incontestable. My recent film on Youtube “Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds” makes the same point on a grand scale. There we see practically the entire subject matter of two paintings (one seen direct and the other observed from Rembrandt’s same position but reflected in an angled sheet of polished pewter, accurately recorded by Rembrandt even to the extent that the more impressionistic technique suggests the blurred quality of the image reflected in polished metal. Both paintings were once accepted as by Rembrandt). The chances of these very complex space relationships happening by chance, or being constructed by calculation must be millions to one against. There are just too many reversals seen from a different point of view. To suggest, as Prof. E.Van der Wetering does that these were typical exercises in Rembrandt’s atelier is unacceptable lunacy.

This evidence which cuts the ground from under the scholars view is not mentioned let alone discussed in the Getty catalogue. For instance in the penultimate and last paragraph p19-20 explain how Rembrandt’s etching of “The Dismissal of Hagar”1637 “made a great impression on his pupils and inspired many variants….we do not know precisely how drawing from the imagination was handled in Rembrandt’s atelier…..” Yet I, Konstam, have explained precisely how Rembrandt himself developed eleven variants of the same subject from the group of three live models posed in his studio; observing sometimes direct, and sometimes in a mirror to their left and at other times in a mirror behind them, but always from the same seat in his studio. The DVD is available on also in the Arts Review Yearbook 1989, not to mention my unpublished book; freely circulated among the Rembrandt establishment many years before.

Peter Schatborn who master-minded the catalogue of The Rembrandthuis exhibition from his position in charge of the prints and drawings at the Rijksmuseum, was also the major contributor of the exhibition at The Getty. He can hardly claim ignorance of my discoveries as he translated my second article into Dutch for inclusion in The Rembrandthuiskroniek in 1978.

The fact is that today’s art theorists seem to have no understanding of the importance of observation in human affairs. It is not enough that scientists are so good at it, their observations are specialized; artistic observation is also specialized but specialized in a different area, an area where neglect is already horrifyingly apparent. By destroying Rembrandt, the figurehead of observed art, the theorists have slued modern art with such success we have to doubt whether it can ever recover. First we must recover The Greater Rembrandt by putting an end to Rembrandt scholarship as it now exists.

Do not burn their books, preserve them as a warning to future generations of experts.

Aug 132010

Dear Friends of Verrocchio,

We have been hit hard by the economic down turn and harder still by the drop in the value of sterling. Tony Lyle has been helping us to jazz up our presence on the internet with a view to finding new customers there. Our very survival depends on its success.

To succeed we need interaction with our past customers by way of positive comments on the Centre, the place, the teaching, the friendly atmosphere, the food, anything that made the place special for you. Just a few words would suffice, such as you might write in a visitors’ book. These would boost our presence on the net enormously. INTERACTION is the key.

Another way to interact, for those with an intellectual curiosity, I have been blogging on such subject as Art History, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Brunelleschi, Verrocchio. I have presence on Youtube with 5 minute films on Serota, Verrocchio and Rembrandt scholarship generally.

The good news is that I am gradually gaining ground. I have been invited to speak on Rembrandt to the Dutch by an organization called PINC which has a very high profile with tv coverage etc. I am due to perform May17th, 2011. This could be the breakthrough after 37 years! You could help the cause by interaction.

We need your help.

Take this link to comment

on the Verrocchio Centre

on the blog

on Youtube

with very best wishes from Caro, Maurizio and Nigel



October 3 – 15th

You are cordially invited to participate in an exhibition of works by staff and students of The Verrocchio Arts Centre at –

The Hield Gallery, Ings Farm, nr. Harrogate, Yorkshire HG3 3QT.

The private view will be 3th Oct. 2010, 12 – 2pm. It will be a great opportunity for a reunion and publicity for The Centre.

The Staff included such illustrious names as Ben Brotherton, Oliver Bevan, David Carr, Jai Chaudhuri, Gus Cummings RA, Graham Giles, Julie Giles, David Gluck, Bella Green, Robin Holtom, Wynn Jones, Nigel Konstam, Leonard Macombe RA, Frances Mann, Sargy Mann, Clive Pates, Christopher Pincent, Terry Raybould, Caroline Seaward, Anne Shingleton, Vince Tutton, David Wentworth.

and mainly their students

Aug 132010

Surprisingly it is necessary to learn to observe. Observation is a specialized activity and each of us has a mind that more easily absorbs either visual or auditory (language based) experience. I, for instance, could not tell you the names of streets that I pass every day because I find my way visually, the street names are irrelevant to me. If one is going to become a specialist in art it is important to start with the right “visual” mental make-up.

The present system of selecting art historians seems more concerned with their auditory ability: to learn languages, rather than to observe art. This selection process means students spend their time reading the literature rather than quizzing the works of art. Art History desperately needs practical revision; embroidering on the literature inevitably leads to the accumulation of myth.

The selection of students is a fundamental mistake that has led us into the present morass: the blind leading the “visual” astray. As George Orwell wisely noted “He who controls the present controls the past.” Rembrandt is being changed beyond recognition by those who control Art History today. It is very rare for an artist to get published in an Art History Journal; rarer still for an artist’s findings to be assimilated by the professionals, we are poles apart. It is only in the last 50 years that art historians have been allowed to dictate the direction of art; it has been a disaster.

This web site proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that Rembrandt worked by observation and not by his ability to invent. This is a fundamental aspect of his artistic make-up. In the case of “The Adoration of the Shepherds” we have two paintings, which replicate on a grand scale, what I have been saying about Rembrandt’s practice in drawings since 1974. It would need an astronomer’s mathematics to work out the odds of such a thing happening by any other means than the use of a mirror. I can only guess it must be many millions to one, against. The reversal of a new point of view of a very complex visual array, can be achieved naturally with an angled mirror. To do it by calculation, as the RRP suggests in this case, is virtually impossible. This being so, it is clearly absurd to go on training young minds to see Rembrandt according to the ideas of the Rembrandt establishment, which deny Rembrandt’s reliance on observation and indeed would have us believe that he taught his students to invent! This is a reversal of all documentary evidence as well as the evidence manifest in his works. It must not be allowed to continue.

There are a simple explanations for Rembrandt’s variability. I have tried to make Rembrandt scholars see this since 1977 through publications, lectures and this web site. Yet, I have not succeeded in attracting a single art historian to my courses; they are hermetically sealed from criticism. Artists accept my version of Rembrandt but alas, are too preoccupied with their own work to take the necessary action.

The main lines along which to come to an understanding of Rembrandt are set out here link but I know that they will not suffice on their own. A minimum of three months practical work is necessary to re-educate, even a “visual”mind. It is frustrating to think the breakthrough I have made in understanding is to be lost if I can find no one interested in continuing the battle to return Rembrandt to his rightful, supremely respected place in the history of painting and drawing. Our visual culture is in a state of collapse. At the age of 77 it is obvious that I will not be able to instruct the young for the indefinite future.

The insights gained from such a course will prove useful beyond Rembrandt studies. An appreciation of Rembrandt is a study of the greatest, most advanced artist in the field of human behaviour. Have our present “experts” contributed one iota to that study? They continue with their study of style which was rendered obsolete when it was discovered that Rembrandt responded variously to the varying stimuli: life, reflection and in the case of imaginative construction, the lack of stimulus. The variety had little or nothing to do with his maturity, everything to do with the quality of the stimulus. For instance, the style of his late etched nudes is remarkably similar to his early etched nudes. Any attempt to assign dates to Rembrandt’s drawings by style is empty posturing; the recent re-attributions are outrageous nonsense. Rembrandt studies at present are worse than a waste of time: they are deeply misleading and have damaged his reputation unjustly.


The words Art History have a rather conservative ring to them, which is deceptive. The contrary is true. Art historians have fostered a culture of “the new” quite regardless of whether the new ideas produce greater awareness or less. The sad truth is that we have in the last 50 years regressed very considerably in awareness. The story of recent Rembrandt scholarship where literally hundreds if not thousands of academics have clung to a doctrine that the facts and the documents deny, is proof enough that our visual culture is in steep decline.

Art historians concerns are not the concerns of trained artists. They cling to a very narrow view of style which makes no real sense in quality evaluation. I was trained in art schools before 1960. The criticism of drawing took the form of assessing the mass; the form, usually of nude human beings, how they were perceived in light and how they resisted gravity. The style of handwriting was not considered worthy of comment. One hundred years earlier the criticism would probably also have included questions about what the pose actually meant in terms of drama, character or feeling.

Such humanist questions were estewed in the 1950s as too literary, not architectural enough for “real art”. We were under the influence of Roger Fry , with his “pure form” as being the only proper concern of the true artist. Rembrandt, if he could have understood this concept at all, would hardly have concurred. The fact is that modern criticism can no longer deal with Rembrandt’s primary concerns as an artist. The more rigorously modern the critic the less chance there is of awareness of human expression. Our focus has narrowed alarmingly; a changed for the worse, that is clearly reflected in our everyday life. We need to put Rembrandt back where he belongs – at the top; for our own well-being.

Aug 122010

I still await an answer to this letter

Nigel Konstam (director)


Via San Michele 16,

Casole d’Elsa, 53031, SI, Italy.

tel 0039-0577-948312 fax –399

to The Director of The National Gallery (London)

July 18th 2010

Dear Dr. Penny,

I am writing to draw your attention to an anomaly that needs to be cleared up surrounding the Rembrandt painting “The Adoration of the Shepherds” in The National Galleries collection. Once vetted by your scientific staff and accepted as genuine, now on show in your current exhibition of “Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” where it is attributed to an unknown advanced student of Rembrandt’s.

I am aware that the RRP have found it wanting but I have proved, quite beyond reasonable doubt, that it is painted from the same group that Rembrandt set up in a barn for his accepted painting of the same subject in Munich. It is observed from the same viewpoint as he used for the Munich painting but viewed through a large mirror; probably made of polished pewter or copper (the copper giving a more Rembrandtesque warmth to the image).

This procedure may seem an odd thing for him to have done but I have shown in my article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” (Burlington Feb ‘77) that this was a normal practice for him; when drawing. In fact, he used it nearly 100 times for drawings. This is the only time it can be proved in painting. When I say ‘proved’ the precise relationship between the two subjects, not only in the number of objects reflected but also the spaces between them remains constant, this precludes any other explanation. If you can imagine the task of reversing a complex three dimensional array and seeing it from a different point of view; you will immediately see that Prof Van der Wetering’s explanation as a student exercise, vastly underestimates the complexity of the interrelationships.

We could suggest that a student took over Rembrandt’s place but there is no student capable of such nearness to Rembrandt’s style, hence his“anonymity”. The much more impressionistic treatment of the subject is due to Rembrandt’s reaction to a less clear image in the reflector. This change of quality is also obvious in the drawings. See for example the comparison between the two versions of Isaac Blessing Jacob B1065 & B891 in my article. Both were drawn from the same group of models under identical lighting; yet B1065 drawn from the reflection is vaguer in treatment. Just what we find in the National Gallery’s version of The Adoration!

Though I live in Tuscany I would be pleased to come to London to give a talk or take part in a debate to clear up this rather crucial divergence of opinion. I enclose a DVD which shows I have plenty to say on the subject. The 5 min film on the Adorations is in the last chapter of the DVD or on Youtube. My saveRembrandt website (as above) with a blog on the Verrocchio site. You will find that my view of Rembrandt agrees with that of his contemporaries “He would not attempt a single brush-stroke without a living model before him, anything else was worthless in his eyes”, where the official view is that he actually taught his students to invent! Rembrandt was an observer not an inventor, this case of the Adorations proves that most forcefully.

Yours sincerely,

Nigel Konstam

Aug 072010

J von Sandrart “Rembandt asserted that one should let oneself be guided by nature alone and by no other law.”…”His subject matter was usually taken from everyday life… and close to nature”

Filippo Baldinucci “the knowledge that his clients had to sit to him for 2 or 3 months cause few people to commission him”

Roger de Piles “He himself said that his art was the imitation of nature and since this included everything he collected ancient suits of armour, ancient musical instruments, old clothes and a multitude of ancient embroidered cloths”

(This collection is fully listed in the inventory of 1656.) “All one finds in Rembrandt is what the character of his country, filtered through a vivid imagination, is capable of producing”

Arnold Houbraken “I know of no other artist who has produced so many variations of one and the same subject. This was the result of careful observation of the various passions and these are recognisable in the facial expressions and attitudes of his characters.”…”He would spend a whole day or even two arranging the folds of a turban until he was satisfied.”..”Our great Rembrandt was of the same opinion (as Caravaggio) and was indeed faithful to the priciple that one must follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes”…”He was content with imitating nature, as he saw it and without any pedantry.”

There is much more in the same vane, what are the experts think of when they deny his reliance on observation?