VERROCCHIO MASTER OF LEONARDO at the Strozzi, Florence, till July 14, 2019
Aug 182019
The one big difference between my interpretation of Rembrandt’s character as an artist and the characterisation of modern scholars is that I see him as an observer and they insist that he was an imaginative inventor. Benesch writing in “Rembrandt Selected Drawings” (1947)   suggested that Rembrandt drew his biblical subjects from an “inner vision…as if he seen them in reality”. Whereas Houbraken (167 ) Rembrandt’s contemporary writes exactly the opposite he said Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush stroke without living model before his eyes” and I have found massive evidence in the drawings themselves that 98% agrees with Houbraken. In fact all Rembrandt’s contemporaries say much same.
Benesch  was writing in the 1947 but today’s scholars seem in complete agreement inasmuch as they have stuck with his method of dating by style and savagely prune those drawings that dont fit in with his ideas; where I have proved over and over again that his ideas were founded on the erroneous assumptions oft repeated in his “Selected Drawings” of Rembrandt’s imagination. I gave ample evidence of this in my article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” (Burlington February 77) and have added to that evidence with many videos on YouTube; nonetheless, the evidence has been neglected by the scholars.
My evidence backs up Rembrandt’s contemporaries who all described the character I have recovered through his works. My version of Rembrandt would expand the catalogue of drawings, perhaps 30% over Benesch’s “Complete Drawings” – Benesch believed in about 1500 of them. While P. Schatborn, once of The Rijksmuseum, more recently claims to believe in only 500 drawings by Rembrandt (in the Getty catalogue “Rembrandt and his Pupils”). I believe in approximately 2200 and  am scandalized by Schatborn’s judgments.
Though I have not had the lifetime of experience among the originals that Schatborn has enjoyed, I believe that successive generations of scholars have dismantled what better connoisseurship once upheld. My own research has largely been among reproductions. My advantage is my sense of Rembrandt has not been hampered by scholarly opinion. I studied art and haved had a lifetime of practice in sculpture and drawing. Rembrandt has been and remains chief among my household gods. I find it difficult to understand how the opinion of theoreticians should trump irrefutable evidence -  indefinitely.
Modern scholarship finds it difficult to believe Rembrandt could have gained anything from his study of Roman portraiture. He owned 30 Roman busts and filled two books with drawings of them, which must be a measure of his interest in Roman portraits. I believe his preference for truth to nature over idealised beauty and his use of three-dimensional geometry as a draftsman is due to his understanding of Roman geometric form; a clear preference over Greek idealization.
There are a number of other failures of recent scholarship which I will outline. But the last sentence of the paragraph above is the essence of my struggle with Rembrandt scholars since 1974. (I have recently experienced precisely the same disdain of evidence from archaeologists over a series of discoveries in Greek and Roman art; the new evidence is centred on The Elgin Marbles, I agree with Richard Payne Knight that the majority and the best are Roman restorations.)
Other misunderstanding in recent Rembrandt scholarship – G. Schwartz finds Rembrandt lacking in humour. But Baldinucci describes him “as first rate joker who laughed at everybody” I am amused considerably by some of his drawings – Rembrandt laughs at everybody in a final self-portrait.
More seriously, scholars want great masters to evolve consistently; and as Rembrandt rarely signed or dated his drawings they have had a field-day of arranging his drawings in a neat order that is absurdly mistaken (see YouTube of The Dismissal of Hagar, where we see that the changes in Rembrandt’s style are produced not by Rembrandt’s maturing but by his changing stimulus from reality to a mirror image). Rembrandt was once famous for his responsiveness, he is the least consistent artist I know; partly because of the wide variety of his responses and partly because he was responsible as a teacher – he believed that “one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes” and he is the only artist I know who was prepared to demonstrate “worthlessness” in his own drawings when he could not follow nature (see YouTube “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” or any of his flying angels).
In his paintings one can see that he developed towards a looser style in the 1650s; the same is probably true of his drawings but the present system of dating by style is clearly wildly mistaken. I have shown evidence for a considerable loss in quality in those drawings made from mirror images (YouTube North Holland dress and “The Dismissal of Hagar”). This loss is almost certainly due to the lesser quality of the stimulus from a 17C. mirror. Plate glass was invented after Rembrandt’s death. His larger mirrors must have been made of either polished metal or composite mirrors made of small pieces mounted together, obviously a less precise image than life direct. I have suggested a spectrum of quality – the best -  from a stable stimulus: from life in the studio – a lesser quality from less stable life in the street – lesser still from mirror images and finally the least successful, when Rembrandt is obliged to construct or work from memory/imagination. These characteristics can be observed in action throughout Rembrandt’s life.
Contrary to the above idea that Rembrandt drew best from a stable stimulus – there are two feeble drawings from Roman busts which are included in Benesch’s catalogue but presumably excluded by Rembrandt from the two scrapbooks mentioned in his inventory, which sadly have been lost. Nonetheless, I would stick with my spectrum in a general way, writing off those two as examples of Rembrandt’s variability. A few of his drawings are truly great others much less so. Alas many of the greats have been dismissed by modern scholarship.
Fortunately the etchings are often dated on the plates, they are therefore a reliable source for examining Rembrandt’s variability. They speak  clearly of the same wide spectrum from infinitely painstaking, for instance in the shell of 1652, to remarkably crude in some of the earlier compositions, or fairly slapdash when drawing a golfer from life. My analysis of The Lion Hunt etchhings on YouTube makes a clear demonstration of the above.
We have to conclude from the etchings that Rembrandt was unreliable throughout his life. My own rule is – if there is any part of a work that could only have been drawn by Rembrandt then it is by Rembrandt; regardless of how awful the rest might be. For instance I defended “The Finding of Moses” drawing (YouTube) from Kenneth Clark’s de-attribution although I agree with his criticism; because this is a drawing about precarious balance that could only have been held by the model for limited time; it does not have Rembrandt’s usual sense of form. I think my comparison with the Virgin Mary with basket B     could confirm my interpretation with forensic tests showing both are done with the same pen and ink.
Further examples of Rembrandt’s drawings without visual stimulus – a drawing of Philemon and Baucis with Jupiter B     - a drawing so feeble it would never have been accepted as by Rembrandt without the little note he added explaining what it represented. He must have been reading his Ovid and thought the subject could make a painting but no models were available so he did his best without them. He did make a very different and successful painting of it afterwards. These examples should make it obvious Rembrandt needed visual stimulus to produce of his best either as a painter or as a draftsman; His student Hoogstratten advises “ take one or two of your fellow students and act out the scene, some of the greatest masters did the same”.
One last example the drawing of Job and his Comforters which experts believe is Rembrandt correcting a student drawing. Such an interpretations suggest that Rembrandt was a brutally destructive  teacher because he has ruined what was an excellent drawing. I describe it instead (on YouTube) as Rembrandt correcting Rembrandt, or more accurately Rembrandt trying a new interpretation over his own excellent drawing. The experts are unable to distinguish between the master and his students it would seem, I find no difficulty, Rembrandt was in an entirely different class. The best of his students were merely adequate.
One of the enduring lessons students can learn from Rembrandt is that he was unself-censoring, entirely self-accepting no matter what the outcome. He could not have foreseen the kind of scrutiny he gets in the analysis of his “Descent from the Cross” in The National Gallery’s “Art in the Making, Rembrandt” but there is not a hint of the hubris there that one finds in Michelangelo, for instance.
I have made a case for a new, more generous catalogue of Rembrandt’s drawings based on a new interpretation of his character as an artist. If you agree please signal your aproval below and ask for action from the scholars. Rembrandt was once the role model for art students.

The one big difference between my interpretation of Rembrandt’s character as an artist and the characterisation of modern scholars is that I see him as an observer and they insist that he was an imaginative inventor. Benesch writing in “Rembrandt Selected Drawings” (1947)   suggested that Rembrandt drew his biblical subjects from an “inner vision…as if he seen them in reality”. Whereas Houbraken (167 ) Rembrandt’s contemporary writes exactly the opposite he said Rembrandt “would not attempt a single brush stroke without living model before his eyes” and I have found massive evidence in the drawings themselves that 98% agrees with Houbraken. In fact all Rembrandt’s contemporaries say much same.

Benesch  was writing in the 1947 but today’s scholars seem in complete agreement inasmuch as they have stuck with his method of dating by style and savagely prune those drawings that don’t fit in with his ideas; where I have proved over and over again that his ideas were founded on the erroneous assumptions oft repeated in his “Selected Drawings” of Rembrandt’s imagination. I gave ample evidence of this in my article “Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors” (Burlington February 77) and have added to that evidence with many videos on YouTube; nonetheless, the evidence has been neglected by the scholars.

My evidence backs up Rembrandt’s contemporaries who all described the character I have recovered through his works. My version of Rembrandt would expand the catalogue of drawings, perhaps 30% over Benesch’s “Complete Drawings” – Benesch believed in about 1500 of them. While P. Schatborn, once of The Rijksmuseum, more recently claims to believe in only 500 drawings by Rembrandt (in the Getty catalogue “Rembrandt and his Pupils”). I believe in approximately 2200 and  am scandalised by Schatborn’s judgments.

Though I have not had the lifetime of experience among the originals that Schatborn has enjoyed, I believe that successive generations of scholars have dismantled what better connoisseurship once upheld. My own research has largely been among reproductions. My advantage is my sense of Rembrandt has not been hampered by scholarly opinion. I studied art and have had a lifetime of practice in sculpture and drawing. Rembrandt has been and remains chief among my household gods. I find it difficult to understand how the opinion of theoreticians should trump irrefutable evidence -  indefinitely.

Modern scholarship finds it difficult to believe Rembrandt could have gained anything from his study of Roman portraiture. He owned 30 Roman busts and filled two books with drawings of them, which must be a measure of his interest in Roman portraits. I believe his preference for truth to nature over idealised beauty and his use of three-dimensional geometry as a draftsman is due to his understanding of Roman geometric form; a clear preference over Greek idealisation.

There are a number of other failures of recent scholarship which I will outline. But the last sentence of the paragraph above is the essence of my struggle with Rembrandt scholars since 1974. (I have recently experienced precisely the same disdain of evidence from archaeologists over a series of discoveries in Greek and Roman art; the new evidence is centred on The Elgin Marbles, I agree with Richard Payne Knight that the majority and the best are Roman restorations.)

Other misunderstanding in recent Rembrandt scholarship – G. Schwartz finds Rembrandt lacking in humour. But Baldinucci describes him “as first rate joker who laughed at everybody” I am amused considerably by some of his drawings – Rembrandt laughs at everybody in a final self-portrait.

More seriously, scholars want great masters to evolve consistently; and as Rembrandt rarely signed or dated his drawings they have had a field-day of arranging his drawings in a neat order that is absurdly mistaken (see YouTube of The Dismissal of Hagar, where we see that the changes in Rembrandt’s style are produced not by Rembrandt’s maturing but by his changing stimulus from reality to a mirror image). Rembrandt was once famous for his responsiveness, he is the least consistent artist I know; partly because of the wide variety of his responses and partly because he was responsible as a teacher – he believed that “one should follow only nature, anything else was worthless in his eyes” and he is the only artist I know who was prepared to demonstrate “worthlessness” in his own drawings when he could not follow nature (see YouTube “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” or any of his flying angels).

In his paintings one can see that he developed towards a looser style in the 1650s; the same is probably true of his drawings but the present system of dating by style is clearly wildly mistaken. I have shown evidence for a considerable loss in quality in those drawings made from mirror images (YouTube North Holland dress and “The Dismissal of Hagar”). This loss is almost certainly due to the lesser quality of the stimulus from a 17C. mirror. Plate glass was invented after Rembrandt’s death. His larger mirrors must have been made of either polished metal or composite mirrors made of small pieces mounted together, obviously a less precise image than life direct. I have suggested a spectrum of quality – the best -  from a stable stimulus: from life in the studio – a lesser quality from less stable life in the street – lesser still from mirror images and finally the least successful, when Rembrandt is obliged to construct or work from memory/imagination. These characteristics can be observed in action throughout Rembrandt’s life.

Contrary to the above idea that Rembrandt drew best from a stable stimulus – there are two feeble drawings from Roman busts which are included in Benesch’s catalogue but presumably excluded by Rembrandt from the two scrapbooks mentioned in his inventory, which sadly have been lost. Nonetheless, I would stick with my spectrum in a general way, writing off those two as examples of Rembrandt’s variability. A few of his drawings are truly great others much less so. Alas many of the greats have been dismissed by modern scholarship.

Fortunately the etchings are often dated on the plates, they are therefore a reliable source for examining Rembrandt’s variability. They speak  clearly of the same wide spectrum from infinitely painstaking, for instance in the shell of 1652, to remarkably crude in some of the earlier compositions, or fairly slapdash when drawing a golfer from life. My analysis of The Lion Hunt etchings on YouTube makes a clear demonstration of the above.

We have to conclude from the etchings that Rembrandt was unreliable throughout his life. My own rule is – if there is any part of a work that could only have been drawn by Rembrandt then it is by Rembrandt; regardless of how awful the rest might be. For instance I defended “The Finding of Moses” drawing (YouTube) from Kenneth Clark’s de-attribution although I agree with his criticism; because this is a drawing about precarious balance that could only have been held by the model for limited time; it does not have Rembrandt’s usual sense of form. I think my comparison with the Virgin Mary with basket B     could confirm my interpretation with forensic tests showing both are done with the same pen and ink.

Further examples of Rembrandt’s drawings without visual stimulus – a drawing of Philemon and Baucis with Jupiter B     - a drawing so feeble it would never have been accepted as by Rembrandt without the little note he added explaining what it represented. He must have been reading his Ovid and thought the subject could make a painting but no models were available so he did his best without them. He did make a very different and successful painting of it afterwards. These examples should make it obvious Rembrandt needed visual stimulus to produce of his best either as a painter or as a draftsman; His student Hoogstratten advises “ take one or two of your fellow students and act out the scene, some of the greatest masters did the same”.

One last example the drawing of Job and his Comforters which experts believe is Rembrandt correcting a student drawing. Such an interpretations suggest that Rembrandt was a brutally destructive  teacher because he has ruined what was an excellent drawing. I describe it instead (on YouTube) as Rembrandt correcting Rembrandt, or more accurately Rembrandt trying a new interpretation over his own excellent drawing. The experts are unable to distinguish between the master and his students it would seem, I find no difficulty, Rembrandt was in an entirely different class. The best of his students were merely adequate.

One of the enduring lessons students can learn from Rembrandt is that he was unself-censoring, entirely self-accepting no matter what the outcome. He could not have foreseen the kind of scrutiny he gets in the analysis of his “Descent from the Cross” in The National Gallery’s “Art in the Making, Rembrandt” but there is not a hint of the hubris there that one finds in Michelangelo, for instance.

I have made a case for a new, more generous catalogue of Rembrandt’s drawings based on a new interpretation of his character as an artist. If you agree please signal your approval below and ask for action from the scholars. Rembrandt was once the role model for art students.

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