There are so many howlers in the expert assessment of Rembrandt’s nudes that I will limit myself to the two splendid drawings reproduced on the cover of the Getty Catalogue. On the front, is a drawing that is still accepted as by Rembrandt; on the back cover is a better drawing which is now re-attributed to a moderately accomplished student, Arent de Gelder. Both drawings are quite obviously not only by Rembrandt himself but of his mistress, Hendrijke Stoffels: furthermore these drawings are quite clearly investigating the pose of Rembrandt’s painting “Bathsheba” in The Louvre. No previous reputed scholar has had the effrontery to doubt either before.
It is almost besides the point that Rembrandt clearly loved her – we love her – because she is reality framed, simplified, clarified to penetrate the human brain. Through hinted geometry we can find our way across that soft, once muscular back, the nuances of the tone in the shadow, as the light strikes across her back, allows us to caress every limp muscle and protruding bone. This drawing teaches us to love and accept nature as she is – not to fly off to some imagined stereotyped goddess. This is Rembrandt’s gift to us: life as it is – miraculously lovely.
The technical basis for our grasp of what Rembrandt is drawing is straightforward and founded on an ancient tradition of form making. We find forms of geometry hinted at in art. Rembrandt himself was greatly attached to Roman portraits, he owned 30 of them and filled two books with drawings of them. Alas these books have been lost, last heard of in the sale of his goods in 1656. (I have made a DVD which explains Rembrandt’s reliance on three dimensional geometry more fully.)
Here in fig.3 below you see how the figure fits into a block of space (suggested by the plastic frame). The figure conforms to the two sides of the block and her stool gives us the hint that the light confirms. See how her head reaches over to touch the light plane of the block, as does most of the figure. The shadow side is parallel with the back of the stool. Once you see the space every mark that Rembrandt makes on the page is accurately legible within that space. He gives all that is necessary for a sculptor to find the figure in a block of stone ( my figure is modeled in clay). Because the space is so clear the forms within it can be perfectly understood.
In fact I prefer this pose to the final version of Bathsheba; the turn of the head away from the indecent suggestion this married woman has received from King David, seems superbly appropriate. We cannot see the letter that is needed to explain the subject and it is probably this that made Rembrandt go for the front view.
While the drawing that is still a Rembrandt is clearly of the same model in nearly the same pose, the geometry is not quite so secure. One can see that Hendrijke has slumped forward a little during the pose. Her distant shoulder has been redrawn lower down. This would have necessarily lowered and swung forward that breast as well but Rembrandt has not made that adjustment, so the front plane of her chest does not quite mesh with the side plane. A very small slip, which may be difficult to see and which those that can see, can easily forgive.
Thus the Getty“experts” are suggesting that de Gelder is more reliable in his geometry than the master. They go on to say “ de Gelder” (the great drawing) “is weaker in the illumination and the rendering of form… above all, it is highly improbable that one artist would draw the same model from the same pose twice”! Highly improbable as it may seem to the “experts” I do it whenever my enthusiasm is aroused. Moving round the figure demonstrates the sculptural side of Rembrandt’s genius. Mr. Giltaij, of the prints and drawings department in Rotterdam, finds “the modelling of the back gives the impression of being over detailed and cautious…the contours (of the figure) are weak and hesitant” such appalling misjudgements are confounded by my ability to make sculpture from the drawing.
In the Getty catalogue the “experts” re-attribute three other former Rembrandt nudes to de Gelder, although the one “sure de Gelder” according to them, is of Jacob being shown Joseph’s blood stained coat (a typical and much tried Rembrandt subject. It is not a great drawing but nonetheless I would guess Rembrandt’s. How can they guess it is by de Gelder with no drawing to compare it with?) They must be stopped! Now!