INVITATION & REQUEST Letter from Prof. E.Haverkamp Begemann of New York University
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.

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