PINC Lecture, Holland by Nigel Konstam – A Plea for the Greater Rembrandt MY VISIT TO HOLLAND
May 232011

The party at the Benboom’s was a triumph. Lots of guests from the media in a lovely house and garden with delicious food. Prof.Van der Wetering of the RRP came, armed with slides and a new thick book of his. Henk had gone to the trouble of making a little booklet for his invitation to the event. I am sure those who came were not disappointed.

I spoke with the same slides I had used for PINC but without that sense of the hopelessness of trying to put it over in 20 minutes. In fact it really only took me half an hour taking it at a sane pace. I had asked for that time and then was prepared for a conversation or questions. Van der Wetering immediately got up and took over with slides that clearly showed he had not taken in the difference between a mirror image and a print image. I had imagined that I had become at least a flea in his ear after our encounter at the Wallace, (I knew he had taken in nothing of my earlier instruction at Casole where we had a day of exchanges on precisely the same material, some ten years ago) No such luck – he was hardly aware of what I had to say and his reply to my presentation was way off beam. He produced a string of cartoon reversals such as artists have used since paper got large enough to make cartoons.

(I will explain again the difference between the two reversals; just in case the professor bothers to check out this blog. A cartoon or print reversal is that made by printing off a plate as in etching or turning over the paper for a cartoon. Piero della Francesca’s two angels in the Madonna del Parto at Monterchi are probably the most famous example of cartoon reversals. Mirror reversals are much less easily recognized as they do not contain the simple symmetry of the cartoon reversal. The examples in are the best ones known. I was the first to discover those about 300 years after they were done.)


Madonna del Parto at Monterchi

We were talking about two different things. When I pointed this out he seemed genuinely baffled, he did not understand. He was really rattled and accused me of having just one bee in my bonnet for 40 years about mirrors, whereas he was a Rembrandt scholar!. “I beg your pardon” I said and enumerated a number of my discoveries and pointed to a supply of my brochures for The Museum of Artists’ Secrets on the table in front of him. He apologized and congratulated me, not altogether sincerely, I thought.

At another point he started to say that I would take his cartoon reversals for mirror images. I had to intervene to say please do not guess at what I would think, I have never said any such thing. At another point he told me I hated art historians. I hope I answered that I had good reason to. Though we have met twice before he was so confident that he could bulldoze me that he had not bothered to do any homework. Fortunately many of the audience had. He claimed to know my Burlington article (Feb 1977) but he clearly had not understood that it undermined the foundations of the scholars’ view of Rembrandt.

It was a clash of David and Goliath, afterwards I trembled with the excitement that the biblical hero must have felt. It was a great evening. I took an informal consensus after and found only one of the 25 or so people present seem to think Goliath had won. Most were really excited by my insights. There were publishers and journalists present so I can only hope that something of that excitement will get into the public domain. Above all I hope my book on Rembrandt will at last get published. It was written and accepted by Phaidon in 1978 but when the heinous reader’s report came through from an anonymous Rembrandt scholar, Phaidon dropped it and ran, not waiting for my response. Nor would any other publisher risk it at that time.

Surely now that the RRP has collapsed and the scholars of the drawings have made such fools of themselves at the Getty; now must be the time to publish. The public is anxiously awaiting a new view of the splendid, unique, Rembrandt: the most innovative artist of all time and the most human.


If anyone took a video of the encounter described above it would be fun to put a little film together for my next DVD.

I forgot to mention I am running a course at Verrocchio, from the 1-14 July to initiate the long overdue reform of Art History. There are still places available (see this site for details).

2 Responses to “TRIUMPH OF TRUTH”

  1. nkonstam says:

    Thanks Vince.

  2. Vince Tutton says:

    Fascinating, if somewhat alarming reading. I worry about the simple fact that those who should know seem not to have listened or read all the material or arguements that you have consistently put forward. I have attended meetings where this has been in abundance and so much time and energy is wasted at the expense of positive results.
    It now seems that after all these years of strong, carefully presented campaigning, which has used up so much of your energy and time – it has not been wasted Nigel. I sincerely hope so. Congratulations.

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