Feb 172020
The theorists of art suffer from the mistaken but widespread idea that the imagination takes place in the mind, mainly of homo sapiens. Most visual artists will recognise that their imagination is greatly enabled by playing with the materials of their art in the real world. This aid is particularly obvious in the three-dimensional art of carving. The popular image of the carver, prompted by art history, is of an individual who is capable of imagining the finished figure in the block and then removing the unwanted stone. I used to shared that view.
•  Now I start my carving from an amorphous piece of alabaster, selected because it’s volumes appeal to me. Initially I have no idea what I will make from it. I start by clarifying the movement in the stone that attracted me; I also clarify the volumes, cutting away jagged pieces that can never be useful. By the end of the first hour of work, turning the peace over, regarding it from every point of view I usually have some idea of what it could become. Some of those ideas are rejected because they have no appeal.
•  From an overview of my works it is fairly obvious that the female figure attracts me so in the majority of cases I  block out a figure that could change sex or position because I sketch it with the maximum gesture the stone will allow. This is my preferred strategy; if I am constricted by a specific commission (a rare occurence) I would start by playing with wax or clay. In either case the very slow process of freeing the figure from the matrix of stone inevitably presents me with a sequence of slow moving, vague figures which allow the imagination many possible directions and outcomes.
•  The subject matter of my carvings is more varied than that of my works in clay because of this constant feeding-in of new possibilities. Their comparative permanence is also helpful. These varying possibilities must exist in clay but are quickly submerged by the conscious will of the artist driving towards a fixed aim; in carving they may persist for weeks.
• The poet, for eons regarded as the one true artist, plays with words – abstractions. But for the visual artists, including actors, dancers, architects, engineers and painters, their imagination is hugely aided by acting out – making real movement in the real world.
•  Because memory is the basis of the way we interpret the world about us it is not possible to quantify how much of imagination is purely mental. My point is that the visual critics generally discount the input of reality, believing that the imagined is somehow superior. Rembrandt scholars may feel they are doing him a favour by denying the existance of the groups of models that posed for him. But in fact the scholars are doing him and any artists who might choose to follow his example, a huge disservice. They are putting Rembrandt’s putative achievements far beyond human capacity.
•  Anyone who believes computers will never equal human imagination should think again. A machine that can put an individual name to 500 million faces even when seen from varying view points, will very quickly outstrip the human imagination. It just needs to understand the function of imagination. Far from being a rare human attribute; imagination is an essential part of the animal survival mechanism –  that lion ate my brother, therefore this lion may eat me.

• RE-IMAGING THE IMAGINATION

The theorists of art suffer from the mistaken but widespread idea that the imagination takes place in the mind, mainly of homo sapiens. Most visual artists will recognise that their imagination is greatly enabled by playing with the materials of their art in the real world. This aid is particularly obvious in the three-dimensional art of carving. The popular image of the carver, prompted by art history, is of an individual who is capable of imagining the finished figure in the block and then removing the unwanted stone. I used to shared that view.

•  Now I start my carving from an amorphous piece of alabaster, selected because it’s volumes appeal to me. Initially I have no idea what I will make from it. I start by clarifying the movement in the stone that attracted me; I also clarify the volumes, cutting away jagged pieces that can never be useful. By the end of the first hour of work, turning the peace over, regarding it from every point of view I usually have some idea of what it could become. Some of those ideas are rejected because they have no appeal.

•  From an overview of my works it is fairly obvious that the female figure attracts me so in the majority of cases I  block out a figure that could change sex or position because I sketch it with the maximum gesture the stone will allow. This is my preferred strategy; if I am constricted by a specific commission (a rare occurence) I would start by playing with wax or clay. In either case the very slow process of freeing the figure from the matrix of stone inevitably presents me with a sequence of slow moving, vague figures which allow the imagination many possible directions and outcomes.

•  The subject matter of my carvings is more varied than that of my works in clay because of this constant feeding-in of new possibilities. Their comparative permanence is also helpful. These varying possibilities must exist in clay but are quickly submerged by the conscious will of the artist driving towards a fixed aim; in carving they may persist for weeks.

• The poet, for eons regarded as the one true artist, plays with words – abstractions. But for the visual artists, including actors, dancers, architects, engineers and painters, their imagination is hugely aided by acting out – making real movement in the real world.

•  Because memory is the basis of the way we interpret the world about us it is not possible to quantify how much of imagination is purely mental. My point is that the visual critics generally discount the input of reality, believing that the imagined is somehow superior. Rembrandt scholars may feel they are doing him a favour by denying the existance of the groups of models that posed for him. But in fact the scholars are doing him and any artists who might choose to follow his example, a huge disservice. They are putting Rembrandt’s putative achievements far beyond human capacity.

•  Anyone who believes computers will never equal human imagination should think again. A machine that can put an individual name to 500 million faces even when seen from varying view points, will very quickly outstrip the human imagination. It just needs to understand the function of imagination. Far from being a rare human attribute; imagination is an essential part of the animal survival mechanism –  that lion ate my brother, therefore this lion may eat me.

Oct 142019

I have given 3 tours of the Parthenon sculptures at the British Museum to demonstrate the evidence that the most often praised and photographed of the sculptures are not Greek but Roman replacements for the originals probably done 570 years later. Richard Payne Knight, a connoisseur and MP, had the same idea at the time Lord Elgin was selling his collection. He was disgraced for his presumption but I have concrete evidence that he was right. My evidence is easily appreciated by the untrained layman because the Greek work is discoloured by smoke from a chimney I discovered and published in The Oxford Journal of Archaeology in 2002. I am to contribute to a Plaster Conference on the 6th & 7th of April 2020 that has been described as “having the potential to revolutionise the entire field of Greek and Roman sculpture”. Here is the script of the tours. The quotes from Roger Fry and Keneth Clark are important to understand just how far modern criticism has strayed from the preferences of Rembrandt, who owned 30 Roman portraits and filled 2 books with studies of them. A revolution in art is well over due.

A Tour of the Elgin Marbles

Good morning, I am Nigel Konstam, a sculptor/bronze caster, not a classical archaeologist so I see these sculptures from a different viewpoint to the archaeologists; with much more practical knowledge of the processes involved and perhaps less mythology in my education. I do not come to these famous icons of art with the same weight of traditional opinion as the archaeologists. Nor am I here to devalue these great works but I do hope to persuade you that the people responsible for the better half of them are not the Classical Greeks, as is generally supposed, but Romans. This is hard to accept for those who know their art history but I expect to convert you all within a few minutes.

In the year 2000 I was lucky enough to discover an ancient chimney on the Acropolis Rock in Athens used by Phidias, the sculptor in charge of the works on The Parthenon. He used the chimney for melting bronze for his gigantic bronze statues. I have recently come to believe this chimney was responsible for an industrial scale smoke pollution which I hope to demonstrate today was responsible for ruining the west pediment with more than 500 years of acid rain. My dicoveries were published in The Oxford Journal of Archaeology in 2002 and the site in Athens is now signposted as a chimney.

We are here in a gallery full of sculpture from The Parthenon the sculptures were brought to Britain by Lord Elgin and so they have the local name of “The Elgin Marbles”. All were taken off The Parthenon, the most famous Greek Temple built by Pericles in Athens starting in 448 BC. The original sculptures were completed in 432 BC. We are in a perfect place to assess most of the evidence of smoke damage.

We are circulating a page of photographs of the evidence we cannot see today because it is in Athens. It is relevant to my thesis – the thesis being that the whole of the west pediment and “The Horse of Selene” on the east pediment are in fact Roman replacements for the original Greek works which had been ruined by smoke from the Athens chimney. I am not the first to suggest Roman workmanship but I am the first to explain how that came about. The evidence of smoke is very easy to follow, the evidence of style which comes second may be slightly more difficult for those untrained in these matters.

Parthenon and chimney

Figure 1 – This shows the relationship of the chimney to The Parthenon. The chimney emerges about 150m down wind from the west facade. The west pediment would therefore have received the full brunt of the weather and smoke driven by the prevailing south-westerly wind. Even now after extensive cleaning and repair there is plenty of evidence that The Parthenon was once blackened by smoke. John Boardman, a well known classical archaeologist was looking for a source of pollution for The Parthenon – I found the chimney and as a result finally came to the upsetting conclusion that many of these works are excellent Roman replacements for the original Classical Greek works.

2chimtop

Figure 2 – This shows the upper west end of the diagonal C section cut in the Acropolis rock which I discovered, it is full of soot and tar throughout its length and discoloured orange by heat. Interestingly at the top end of the existing chimney-section the signs of smoke disappear. I therefore hypothesize there was a vertical tower chimney (represented white in fig.1) that would have taken the smoke yet closer to damage The Parthenon. I have no way of knowing how high the chimney was but undoubtedly a metre or two. Furthermore, if one was designing a building to catch smoke The Parthenon would be a good solution with its outer columns and inner wall making a corridor to conduct smoke along its length.

3insideparth

Figure 3 – This shows the passage of smoke through the Parthenon, mainly high up on the walls and ceiling but particularly along the west and south sides of the Parthenon you will still find blackening under the architrave caused by centuries of smoke rising from below.

4Pardamag

Figure 4 – This shows an early photograph of the Parthenon before restoration. We see it is heavily blackened particularly at the west end, and less black around the damage caused by the explosion of the Turkish arsenal in 1687. The Acropolis was being bombarded by the Venetians, the Turks kept their gunpowder in The Parthenon. Naturally, tremendous structural damage was done by the explosion but the pollution would have been short lived. The chimney would have been polluting perhaps for 500 years 1,500 years earlier. Bearing in mind that those pillars have been washed by rain for 2000 years before the photo, we can guess the pollution in Hadrian’s time would have been very heavy indeed.

From here, below the east pediment, I ask you to look at the colour/tone difference between The Horse of Selene (on the extreme right) and the rest of the east pediment. I think you will agree with me the horse is much lighter. If you now look at the west pediment it is all the light colour of the horse. I believe that all the lighter work is Roman replacement of the original Greek designs. If we now go over to the east pediment I will explain why.

Here we see two very damaged genuine classical Greek horses to contrast with the perfect clean Roman Horse of Selene. We see blackening in many places on this pediment, under the thigh of Dionysos there is even erosion under his knee, from the acid smoke rising from below. On the stool of the two ladies next to him there is heavy evidence of smoke rising from below and depositing soot on the stool, the skirt and legs. If we go round the back we see very heavy deposits of soot that has survived four cleanings (the one here in the museum in 1938 was scandalously severe, removing up to 2 mm of the surface in some places). The reason for the position of this heavy deposit is that in classical times they were carving marble with iron or bronze tools. The fragile nature of the tools confronted with the hard marble meant that they worked very slowly pecking away at right angles to the surface but this had the effect of bruising the marble beneath. That is the crystalline structure was disturbed creating crevices which allowed the smoke to enter deeply, well beyond the reach of any scouring. Working in this valley between the cloth of the sleeve would have been more difficult and therefore created more bruising and more penetration.

Selene horse

Figure 5 – Horse of Selene (right) compared to the greek original (left)

smoke damage horse

Figure 6 – Damage caused to sculptures in the Parthenon. One can see on the knee of Dionysos (right) a dent at the top where erosion has taken place; also the parallel ridges on the thigh suggest that a layer of black erosion has been chiselled off (probably before Hadrian’s more thorough restorations were undertaken).

Later carving was done with steel tools at an oblique angle to the surface which did not bruise the marble beneath, hence the dark gray of the original work and the lighter colour of the replacements. I guess that these replacements were paid for by the Roman Emperor Hadrian because he had the power, the taste and the willingness being a great admirer of Greek art. I do not insist it was he but at the time of the purchase of the works from Elgin, an art expert who was also an MP, Richard Payne Knight suggested the works were Roman and of that period. He was disgraced as a result, though I now believe he was right. Elgin himself had left two figures, of King Cecrops and his daughter, on The Parthenon because he believed them to be Roman copies.

The reason why the horse had to be replaced although furthest from the source of smoke is twofold. First because the nose and mouth actually overhang the parapet and therefore received the full effect of the rising smoke; and second because the work on the hollowed mouth and nostrils would have undermined the crystal structure severely thus increasing the entry of smoke and the chances of collapse.

Many regard these sculptures as the most beautiful ever made. It is interesting to reflect that what I now believe to be Roman work has been particularly lauded and reproduced as typical examples of Classical Greek work.

We have looked at the most obvious evidence. Before going on to demonstrate the stylistic difference of the Roman work, which is more subtle.

This horse’s head is crisp and geometric suggesting a Roman hand. Let us return to genuine Greek Dionysos in order to compare him with the Illissos figure on the west pediment, which I believe to be Roman, in the Dionysos the forms are more rounded and with little or no sense of the underlying muscle, fat or bone, where the museum’s own brochure describes the figure of Ilissos on the west pediment as “an admirable example of the mastery with which the surface textures of skin, tense or loose, and the underlying muscle, fat and bones are indicated by the sculptors of the Parthenon. I agree about the excellence but not about the authorship. I have always regarded this figure of Illissos as the greatest of all. I particularly admire the way the stomach stretches between the rib-cage and the pelvis and the differentiation between the two thighs, all brilliantly observed. I have described this work as by an earlier Bernini from ancient Rome. Recent scholarship has consistently taken a dim view of Roman art. Roger Fry in his “Last Lectures” as Slade Professor at Cambridge said of Rome “the one great culture of ancient times of which we can, I think, say that the loss of all her artistic creations would make scarcely any difference to our aesthetic inheritance.” I hope my demonstrations have persuaded you that this assessment, is gravely mistaken. It has had enormous influence.

Finally to bring this new truth up to the present let me quote Lord Clark, he spent a page and a half denigrating Rome’s contribution to art in his “Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance”(1966) with such phrases as “what could have persuaded Rembrandt to have drawn these posturing marble divinities – smooth, soulless and inane”. Clark would doubtless be somewhat embarassed to find out that this magnificent piece was in fact a Roman copy.

Unlike Clark and modern taste generally Rembrandt admired Roman art intensely. He owned 30 Roman portraits and filled two books with drawings of them. The syntax of his drawing is deeply influenced by the Roman tradition. Sadly, this modern attitude has led to many major art schools banishing the cast-room, where traditional drawing was taught because that illusive factor “form” has a direct relationship to Greek or Roman sculpture. As a student in1956 the main aim of an art education was to see form.

When we have finished here I hope to have time to explain why this low estimate of Rome goes hand in hand with the destruction of connoisseurship. I will demonstrate my analysis of the three dimensional geometry in a bust of Hadrian, room 70. This geometry, I believe, became the basis of the better part of European drawing. As prime examples of the use of Roman form I put forward Masaccio, Mantegna, Holbein, Rembrandt, Degas and Giacometti.

There are many of my videos on YouTube. If you wish to check out what you have heard today you can visit my website www.nigelkonstam.com where you will find an ebook entitled “An Alternative History of Art” in which chapter one deals with Greece, chapter two with Rome and chapter nine with Rembrandt and many blogs. All suggest a new start with a new, more accurate history for art. We need to abandon the false traditions of Art History that have gone so far astray.

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.

Apr 292019
“Verrocchio”  at the Strozzi Palace is a important exhibition because it sets Verrocchio  in his artistic tradition – his antecedents as well as his influence on future generations. Vasari describes him as having “a somewhat hard. crude manner” which is not untrue by the  standards of Vasari’s day but I would choose much more positive words such as classic, Roman, geometric, observant. Phrases like a meticulous delight in the volumes of nature, dedicated to visual truths, a great draughtsman. Verrocchio was trained as a goldsmith working on a small scale but his ambition grew in scale when in Rome fairly late. He had the misfortune to mature in the long shadow of Donatello and his reputation was later over-shadowed by his star pupil Leonardo da Vinci. But as a teacher he also had many other famous names as his students or followers.
As far as I’m concerned I would reverse the usual judgement and say that Leonardo’s greatest work, his curiosity and inventiveness was strongly influenced by Verrocchhio. There are very obvious influences and habits in common, both loved drawing complicated hair arrangements, both had a wide curiosity about natural appearances, about anatomy, about landscape and most of all about natural forces and how to master them. Both would leave works for a long time and come back to them with a fresh eye perhaps after years. Both found it difficult to finish their work to order.
Verrocchhio died while casting his great final masterpiece The Colleoni Monument in Venice; he was only 50. The great importance of Verroocchio is the seriousness and dedication with which he pursued the physical three dimensional likeness of his subject matter he was a great teacher and a great artist. Sadly the present catalogue follows the normal approach by calling the exhibition “Verrrocchio, Masterr of Leonardo”. This is a shame. The catalogue spends half a page trying to persuade us that his nick-name Verrocchio means winch rather than true eye, which is so much more appropriate. Added to which some of his most impressive works have been attributed to other masters: The portrait of his major patron Lorenzo the Magnificent (still in Washhington) is attributed to an imitator but what a magnificent job the ‘imitator’ made of it – infinitely better than the master himself in his portrait of Piero Medici (included in the exhibition), which is a fairly run of the mill production in a great age of portraiture; while the Lorenzo must be one of the greatest portrait busts ever made. The terracotta putto, an obvious by-product of the equally beautiful “Winged Boy with  Dolphin”is attributed to an anonymous student though it has all the hallmarks of the master himself. The high quality of his workshop is well represented.
In spite of these minor disadvantages the exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to re-evaluate a major master, presently undervalued, and to follow the methods of instruction of the leader of the greatest art school ever known. The catalogue admits “he shaped the style and taste of the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent like no other” what more need be said.

“Verrocchio”  at the Strozzi Palace is a important exhibition because it sets Verrocchio  in his artistic tradition – his antecedents as well as his influence on future generations. Vasari describes him as having “a somewhat hard, crude manner” which is not untrue by the  standards of Vasari’s day but I would choose much more positive words such as classic, Roman, geometric, observant. Phrases like a meticulous delight in the volumes of nature, dedicated to visual truths, a great draughtsman. Verrocchio was trained as a goldsmith working on a small scale but his ambition grew in scale when in Rome fairly late. He had the misfortune to mature in the long shadow of Donatello and his reputation was later over-shadowed by his star pupil Leonardo da Vinci. But as a teacher he also had many other famous names as his students or followers.

As far as I’m concerned I would reverse the usual judgement and say that Leonardo’s greatest work, his curiosity and inventiveness was strongly influenced by Verrocchhio. There are very obvious influences and habits in common, both loved drawing complicated hair arrangements, both had a wide curiosity about natural appearances, about anatomy, about landscape and most of all about natural forces and how to master them. Both would leave works for a long time and come back to them with a fresh eye perhaps after years. Both found it difficult to finish their work to order.

Verrocchhio died while casting his great final masterpiece The Colleoni Monument in Venice; he was only 50. The great importance of Verroocchio is the seriousness and dedication with which he pursued the physical three dimensional likeness of his subject matter he was a great teacher and a great artist. Sadly the present catalogue follows the normal approach by calling the exhibition “Verrrocchio, Masterr of Leonardo”. This is a shame. The catalogue spends half a page trying to persuade us that his nick-name Verrocchio means winch rather than true eye, which is so much more appropriate. Added to which some of his most impressive works have been attributed to other masters: The portrait of his major patron Lorenzo the Magnificent (still in Washhington) is attributed to an imitator but what a magnificent job the ‘imitator’ made of it – infinitely better than the master himself in his portrait of Piero Medici (included in the exhibition), which is a fairly run of the mill production in a great age of portraiture; while the Lorenzo must be one of the greatest portrait busts ever made. The terracotta putto, an obvious by-product of the equally beautiful “Winged Boy with  Dolphin”is attributed to an anonymous student though it has all the hallmarks of the master himself. The high quality of his workshop is well represented.

In spite of these minor disadvantages the exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to re-evaluate a major master, presently undervalued, and to follow the methods of instruction of the leader of the greatest art school ever known. The catalogue admits “he shaped the style and taste of the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent like no other” what more need be said.

Jan 092019

Is Art History too big to fail?

As a sculptor I have fulfilled the ambition to leave some trace of my passage on Earth but in my activity as art detective, at which I seem to be uniquely able, I have made hardly any mark at all. Though I have discovered a number of holes in the web of art history and occasionally published them in learned journals my two major insights have gone unanswered and have had no discernible impact on professional opinion. They are of major importance and I’m writing this last blast to try and push them to public notice. At the age of 86 if I don’t manage it in the next few years I guess they will be forgotten forever.

Though my discoveries have been published in prestigious art historical magazines they have not dented the beliefs of the art historians, they are over confident of their knowledge and unquestioning of their authorities. My detective persona springs into action only when my disbelief is triggered. Fortunately, my life is full without my discoveries because academic historians have managed to block my passage to the normal reading public in a way that has surprised me by its efficiency in this age of the internet. They police so much of the art media I seldom get my foot in the door. My Rembrandt book was first accepted by Phaidon and then rejected as a result of a disgraceful hatchet-job from an anonymous, professional reader; no other publisher would take it on after that. My evidence has been available on YouTube for at least 10 years but has made very little headway.(see www.nigelkonstam.com)

The first discovery was a series of errors in the scholarship of Rembrandt, the most important of masters to generations of artists. My discovery of Rembrandt’s use of mirror images derived from three dimensional groups of live models confirms the unanimous verdict of his contemporaries that “he would not attempt a single brush stroke without a living model before his eyes”. Modern scholarship insists on exactly the opposite: that his narrative drawings came from “an inner vision” but the evidence in the drawings is of groups of recognizable models who worked for Rembrandt over a period of years, creating with their tableaux vivents the subject matter for him and his students for both drawings and paintings. My interpretation is confirmed by geometry and by the inventory of his belongings; we know Rembrandt owned rooms full of the costumes and theatrical properties necessary to create these tableaux. It is necessary to understand the difference between print reversal that reverse two dimensional drawing and mirror reversal which can only be derived from three dimensional objects. As I have pointed to nearly 100 examples of this in Rembrandt’s drawings (not including the self portraits) a jury would undoubtedly accept these examples as proof, not so Rembrandt scholars.

My evidence is more than enough to convince any open mind. The known facts corroborate my story but there is an army of academic theorists whose beliefs oppose the facts with no explanation. I’ve been surprised by the extent to which academic theories win a public and media following over the practical experience of artists. Most of my discoveries have come about because I believe that the art we admired most before modern times was the result of direct observation of life; where the art historians are trained to believe that great art is the result of imaginative invention. Rembrandt recommends the observation of nature “anything else was worthless in his eyes”(A.Houbraken). I follow Rembrandt.

Art history used to be written by the practitioners now it is dominated by people whose knowledge is garnered from books, second-hand, rather than direct experience. The Scientific Revolution started when that state of affairs was reversed by observation of the stars. Will there ever be a similar revolution in art history? I doubt it without pressure from the public. These two case histories should provide the stimulus for change but no sign of that yet. The intelligent rule for judging strong evidence must surely be that one accepts it until better comes along. Art historians like theologians seem to stick with ancient books regardless of the evidence – authority rules, OK!

If you are content to have a Rembrandt story that is entirely at odds with the known facts, which reverses his whole philosophy and reduces his output by over 70%, leave things to the experts. If you prefer common sense we need a revolution in art history – right now. (Pieter Schatborn, late of The Rijksmuseum and mastermind behind the Getty show “Rembrandt and his Students” believes in only 500 Rembrandt drawings, Otto Benesch, author of the Catalogue Raissone (1954) believed in nearly 1500, I believe in over 2000.)

My evidence is beyond reasonable doubt and was published with the acknowledged support from Prof. Sir Ernst Gombrich in the most prestigious art history magazine, The Burlington, (February 1977) and has been ignored or snubbed ever since. (for details of how this was achieved see my article “Barriers to Academic Discussion” in The Journal of Information Ethics, fall 2015. For a brief introduction to my evidence see YouTube, Nigel Konstam BBC, plus many more). The historian/philosopher Y.N.Harari is fond of telling us not to underestimate the stupidity of our species; here is a thriving example of it on a grand scale and in public view for 100 years. How many young minds are brainwashed per annum by departments of art history? Moreover, generations of artists have been deceived about the modus operandi of their chief hero.

ELGIN ARGUMENTS

My recent discovery disturbs the tap-root of European art history and art criticism. The essence of this discovery is that the Romans restored most of the sculptures in the British Museum known as “The Elgin Marbles”. The evidence for this is as clear as day when viewed with the new knowledge of where the smoke pollution came from and how it was trapped by the Parthenon building. The discovery is based on two previous discoveries I made and published in The Oxford Journal of Archaeology in 2002:- a chimney on the Acropolis rock in Athens, and the use of life-casting in ancient Greece (OJA 2004).

The evidence is available to all, no special training is necessary and it is on permanent display in the museum at all times. Furthermore, it is a strong argument for retaining the collection not sending the sculptures back to Greece. Instead the marbles become the best place to study the relative merits of the two great civilizations of the past that have most strongly influenced subsequent art. This discovery is a promotion for Rome and a reversal of orthodox opinion since Winklemann.

I recently published the full evidence in a booklet “Elgin Arguments” (2018) now also available as an e-booklet. There is every reason to believe that its reception is going nowhere; the establishment has no wish to be disturbed. There is a video on YouTube which is an introduction to the whole idea there is also the illustrated e-booklet, which elaborates on the ideas. (see www.nigelkkonstam.com) Please look them up and add your voice to mine demanding a proper discussion of these important facts that have been misunderstood for 300 years during which Phidias has enjoyed the adulation chiefly earned by the restorations done over 500 years later with superior tools and greater sophistication.

An art expert, Richard Payne Knight, made the same point about Roman restorations at the time parliament was buying the marbles from Elgin but he was disgraced for his heresy. The chimney on the Acropolis provides the evidence that restorations were needed which Payne Knight lacked; he relied on style for his opinion now we have soot colour, texture and weathering to add to style. You will need my Guide below to appreciate this to the full.

A Guide to how to distinguish Greek from Roman work in the Elgin Marbles, I put no copyright on this description so please send it to anyone who might be interested and take it yourself when you next visit the British Museum. This description goes somewhat further than the original booklet as it compares and contrasts the South Frieze of the Elgin Marbles with the casts of the North Frieze which Elgin brought back leaving the originals in place, clearly because they were not so good. I now believe that the South frieze is mainly Roman restoration as well as the west pediment, both were most probably commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian (117 – 138 AD) that is 570 years after Phidias designed the originals. They are not restorations in the modern sense because they are better than the original work on the east pediment as judged by a series of connoisseurs.

The horse of Selene being the one exception on the east pediment, that horse is Roman it is easily distinguished because the original work is blackened by smoke and the Rome is clean shiny marble, furthermore it is in much better condition as it has not been subjected to 570 years of weather and smoke. Compare the horses of Helios with the horse of Selene, both on the east pediment but they could not be by the same author or from the same date; Selene is markedly better and has become the icon of the Elgin collection.

This reassessment of the relative quality of Greek and Roman work matters because many of the great masters of the past are much more reliant on Roman geometric form than is now acknowledged – Masaccio, Mantegna, Holbein, Rembrandt, Degas and Giacometti for example. All are based on Roman three dimensional geometry and their achievement cannot be properly understood by present critical methods. Geometric relationships are not read by sensitive lines but by relationships on the page. Art historians have paid little attention to the important Roman contribution to European art though Rembrandt owned thirty Roman portraits and filled two books with drawings of them. Clearly they were a major influence on him.

This is why I need public support. It is difficult for archaeologists to admit to centuries of failure to see what is now so obvious. Rembrandt scholars have no such excuse for their continuing denial of what must be clear and proven to the rest of us.

A NEW TOUR OF THE ELGIN MARBLES

by Nigel Konstam, (sculptor & art detective) no copyright

This tour is designed to demonstrate that European Art History is based on an error: the greater part of The Elgin Marbles, all of which were taken off The Parthenon, are nonetheless Roman not Greek. Furthermore, connoisseurs have regularly preferred the Roman work to the Greek. This idea was first proposed by Richard Payne Knight when Elgin was selling th sculptures that he had saved from the ruins of The Parthenon to the government. Payne Knight was disgraced for his heresy but Konstam brings new evidence of an industrial chimney 150m downwind from the west facade, the pollution from which could have so damaged the sculptures that they needed to be restored by Hadrian (117-138 AD). The chimney was discovered by Konstam in 2000 and in spite of his efforts no carbon test has been done on its soot and tar. Such tests could confirm or deny his theory as there is still plenty of black on the original Greek sculpture to compare.

1. Start at the east pediment viewed from afar. Note how all the sculptures are grey with some black in places. The black is mainly coming from below but the black is also in deeply carved pockets where more bruising of the stone has taken place due to the use of iron or bronze tools at right angles to the surface which bruises the marble. This bruising allows the black smoke to enter so deeply into the stone that no cleaning can shift it. This is genuine Greek Classical work. The exception is the horse of Selene on the extreme right which I believed to be Roman and carved with steel tools at an angle to the surface which does not bruise the finished stone. The Selene Horse really looks like marble and is most admired. All are the same Pentelic marble though they do not look it. Note also that the quality of the art is superior to that of the Helios pair (Greek).

2. Move closer to the two horses of Helios on the left. Note the one behind has lost his muzzle, note how weathered and soft the break is. This is because the break is very old. (We will see the west pediment damage is much newer.)

3. Look under the knee of Dionysos, the next figure to the Helios horses, you will find areas of black particularly where it overhangs the parapet. Look very carefully and you will find a declivity where the smoke has eaten away the stone under the actual knee bones, note also how narrow the knee has become, possibly because the underside has been reworked as a makeshift repair of the smoke damage.

There is also evidence that this figure was copied from a life-cast in hollow wax such as was used to cast the Bronzes of Riace (see The Oxford Journal of Archaeology 2002 “Sculpture the Art and the Practice” for details): the carver has copied so accurately the crude modification made to bend the figure to this new pose that this use of life-casts as lay figures is strongly indicated.

4. Note the black on the lower skirts of the two ladies next to Dionysos. All you have seen so far would have received the smoke collected by the south colonnade as it is in line with these sculptures and is where the smoke would naturally escape. The rest of the pediment is somewhat less blackened because farther from the main stream of smoke.

5. Continue to note grey colouring until you reach the horse of Selene, far right; clean and quite clearly of Roman origin. Although the original Greek version would have been furthest from the source of smoke it would have received that smoke direct in its mouth and nostrils which overhang the parapet and would have been extra vulnerable because of the extra bruising caused by excavating those hollows with iron or bronze tools.

6. Round the back of the east pediment you will note the extra blackening in the deepest holes or valleys explained as above. If this amount of damage was done by smoke here think how much more was done to the west pediment much closer to the chimney plus more direct rain. An early photo shows most blackening on the west facade.

7. As you walk towards the west pediment note the sophistication of the relief carving where sometimes the depth of 3 figures overlap. Some of the horses heads do not work that well because they have not sufficient depth of stone but the bodies are very well adapted to the varying depth of space they occupy. This is Roman, if you wish to see the true Greek relief of the classical period go next door to the Xanthos room there you will see very beautiful reliefs but much simpler. Between these major displays you will see the plaster casts of the northern frieze which Lord Elgin chose to leave in Athens; these are less good Greek reliefs. I have called them naive because the awkward art of relief is no longer following the earlier rules and has not yet worked out the new ones. Block 4 is a particularly crude example of this. Where the Roman horses in the main gallery are remarkably uniform, real cavalry horses, these horses vary from overblown roundabout horses to rather deer-like forms, nor is the anatomy well understood. Opposite this room you will find an excellent video of the arrangement of the south frieze in cavalry ranks indicating yet more sophistication (of Roman work).

8. At the west pediment note all is clean and the surface marble-like because carved with steel tools. The steel tools held at an acute angle to the surface when cutting, does not bruise the stone. The earlier crumbling method (Greek) with iron tools uses the tool at right angles to the surface that bruises the finished stone as well. The bruising allowed the soot to enter so deeply into the stone that even the brutal cleaning of 1938 could not shift it. The finished surface of this earlier carving would have been polished with abrasives but could not have reached the shiny surface of the Roman work. It is probable that Hadrian closed down the foundry if it had not been closed before. Any dirt on the west pediment is the result of ageing. The grave damage is much crisper than that of the Helios horses probably because it was caused by Venetian canon during the bombardment of 1687.

Thse numerous anomalies seen in the colour, texture, style and weathering can be best explained by severe damage done by the Phidian chimney before 117 AD and subsequent restorations probably ordered by Hadrian.

When you have seen the evidence please leave comments on the YouTube presentation. There is also a colour illustrated e-booklet available “Elgin Arguments” where you can award stars. For yet more detail “Sculpture, the Art and the Practice” second edition, with the Riace Bronze supplement, both are by Nigel Konstam.

Sep 182018

Konstam will demonstrate evidence that the Parthenon was damaged by pollution from the Phidian foundry.  This evidence radically alters both the arguments for the marbles return to Greece and the aesthetic assumption that Greek originals are vastly superior to the Roman copies. On the contrary, the Roman copies from the Parthenon have been more widely praised than the Greek originals. There are four ways in which the layman can tell Greek from Roman (colour, texture, style and weathering). The experts have chosen to ignore this disturbing news.
For this and other relevant discoveries see www.nigelkontam.com
In photograph one can confuse shadows with soot. To be fully convinced you need to see the primary evidence at the British Museum with your own eyes.
It is hoped that doubters will enliven the debate on Nov. 4th.2018

Your comments and support on YouTube may promote truth in art history by bring  these discoveries to a wider public.

Sep 182018

British historian Nigel Konstam (correction Nigel is actually a sculptor and teacher and founder of the Verrocchio Art Centre) has published a booklet arguing that many of the works stolen from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 1800s are in fact Roman reproductions of the Greek originals.

His theory is based on the recent discovery of a chimney near the Parthenon used by the great 5th century sculptor Phidias to cast his giant bronzes.

Konstam suggests that the originals had been eroded by acid rain caused by chimney effluent.

He argues that the Roman statues were carved differently and look much cleaner than the Greek ones, which were etched (carved) with fragile iron and bronze tools, causing bruising and microcracks which allowed the smoke to penetrate deeper.

The British Museum’s senior curator Ian Jenkins described Konstam’s theory as “radical”.

“I have never heard before the connection between Roman replacements of the west pediment sculptures of the Parthenon and smoke…Nobody been so radical as to suggest that the entire west pediment is a Roman replacement,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

Lord Bruce a descender of Lord Elgin is not convinced. Speaking to the British tabloid he said he can’t believe there was that much pollution caused by the chimney.

“His theory is at least not as ridiculous as one currently doing the rounds that the Parthenon was a burial ground for young maidens,” he added.

Aug 062018

The word imagination shimmers in the mind along with ‘inspiration’ on a higher level than invention, construction or observation. In the Renaissance and earlier consciousness the true artists were the poets. Painters and sculptors suffered under the lesser designation as artisans/craftsmen. Unrecognised as artists because they were simple copyists, therefore without imagination. Vasari and his artist subjects worked hard to change this by equating their efforts with the imagination of the poet. Thanks to their efforts the visual arts now seem to top the charts as far as prices paid for our products are concerned. But there is a down side.

In the arts the word has come to mean working without reference to nature. So the expectation of imagination from the visual arts has inadvertently come to mean fantasy: to out-weigh observation. Whereas what we have actually admired in the past is the vivid observation of nature in which imagination enters as much and as little as in daily life. The patches of light that come to our retina have to be interpreted by the brain, that can only be an act of imagination because they are recognised usually in spite of inadequate data certainly not by perfect matching.

Every act of recognition requires memories and imagination. When I look at the chair beside my bed I see patches of dark brown and lighter brown light. The colour relationships remind me of corduroy and my memory of casting aside my trousers allows me to recognise the patches of light as my trousers but there is no evidence in the shapes I see that these are indeed trousers. It is the memory of light on corduroy that has given the clue to my deduction. Every act of recognition could be described as a discovery because we need imagination for the simplest acts that allow us to find our way in the world. Imagination is not rare it is an everyday necessity.

When Copernicus discovered that the earth was circling the sun he was using his imagination to see the orbits from outer space. That discovery has shaken the world so badly that had he advertised it he would probably have been burnt at the stake. There is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between my finding of my trousers and Copernicus’ vision based on data that was thousands of years old but not recognised. His was the greatest leap of the imagination made by Man. It has reduced our status from the centre of the universe to a tiny speck in a probable multiverse. The human imagination has grown in status based on Copernicus and his like but it is sensible to regard it also as normal and everyday. We need to distinguish between the low flights of recognition and the high flights of imagination.

The significance of a discovery needs to be the measure of its importance. We need to take some of the unreasoned shine from the word. Imagination can be vastly important or everyday insignificant. I fear that art historians have been over impressed by Vasari’s arguments and have illogically reasoned that as Rembrandt is undoubtedly exceptional he must therefore have worked from imagination. Alas. this is hopelessly wide of the mark. Yes, Rembrandt possessed a wonderful imaginative empathy with his subjects but to realize feelings he needed to observed them in reality. The scholars have imposed on a master of huge importance, one who consistently claimed to work from observation “anything else was worthless in his eyes”- a method of work that does not fit at all. To make him fit his new work description scholars have had to discard more than half his genuine works. When Rembrandt is obliged to work by construction, with flying angels for instance, he makes sure that we do not take him seriously; he adopts a looser style (Link to flying angels)

It is indeed surprising that so many scholars have subscribed to the absurd idea of his imaginative construction for so long in the face of so much contrary evidence, and while doing immeasurable harm to our understanding of the master. My article on Rembrandt’s use of mirrors (Burlington Feb.1977) should have dispelled any remaining doubts about the unanimous testimony of Rembrandt’s contemporaries in this respect. Changing entrenched beliefs requires much patience – as Max Plank observed “science advances funeral by funeral”. The damage to Rembrandt and therefore to art continues unabated. At Harvard the only time we came near to debating the issue – I would claim to have won hands down but clearly the scholars took a different view because they have brushed aside my evidence as if it did not exist. There is no evidence for their view other than the fact that many scholars have accepted it unquestioningly for nearly a century! All the evidence favours my interpretation.

Aug 062018

In his“Triumph of Art” Part 4 of the TV series Civilizations Simon Schama described Velásquez’ Las Meninas as “a triumph of illusionistic painting”, also, as “a huge brain teaser”. Velasquez himself is “the most cerebral painter of his generation”. Schama asked what is painted on this large canvas we see the back of? possibly the princess or perhaps the king and queen ? “Generation after generation of writers commentators and artists have tried to explain it” but, Schama thinks that “no one has quite got to the bottom of it”. He does not exaggerate the degree to which scholars have found mystery where as a practicing sculptor I have often found a simple, practical explanation for scholars’ mysteries. Of course, it is Las Meninas painted on the front of the huge canvas, self portraits often include the back of the canvas (Las Meninas is approx 3m high). I cannot disagree with his final explanation – the painting is about who is in charge of the way we see but alas my answer is unfortunately the theoreticians, not the painter as Schama implies!

Las Meninas Velasquez

Las Meninas Velasquez

My own inquiry started from the question how did Velasquez actually see what he was painting – obviously he needed a mirror to paint a self-portrait. He could not have seen those standing beside and in front of him without seeing them in the same mirror in which he saw himself; so it must be worth asking the question did he actually use a mirror. It would have had to have been a big one, plate-glass did not exist in 1656 when this picture was painted but there was a hall of mirrors in the royal palace in Toledo which Velasquez was in process of transferring to the new Palace in Madrid at the time he painted Las Meninas. Spain had been receiving tribute from Holland and the mirror we see painted reflecting the king and queen in Las Meninas is in a Dutch frame. The same mirror or an identical one can still be seen in the sacristy of the cathedral in Toledo. We would need two rows of four such mirrors mounted together to cover the figures within the subject matter in the painting. But for a Royal Hall of Mirrors that does not seem an exaggerated possibility. Unfortunately there’s no record of the size of mirrors in the hall but the painting seems to represent the room next door (with minor modifications). When we ask the question did Velasquez actually use a mirror? the answer comes back from the painting itself -YES, eight times. 1. Velasquez changed himself to a righthander, 2. he painted the Infanta in the same year with her parting on the other side of her head. 3 the lighting of the group on the left depends on reflected light from the mirror. Are these not proof enough that he used the mirror I published these ideas in The Artist Magazine in March 1980 but scholars continue to pursue mysteries in painting, clearly miracles are preferred by them to practical explanations.

My straightforward explanation would be useful to artist today who undertake group portraits. It is a technique which I suspect was used by Velasquez’ assistant for his family portrait and by Goya for his royal group, both artists included a self-portrait. But they disguised their method,. Velasquez did nothing to disguise his method. Art scholars think very differently to artists, they prefer written, cerebral evidence to visual clues; and as they have come to dominate the discussion of art in the media and everywhere else, so useful ideas for artists get lost. There seems to be only a one-way traffic between the theoreticians and the practitioners of art. I have offered similar practical explanations for a number of art miracles many of them are on YouTube (see www.nigelkonstam.com). The use of mirrors by Brunelleschi to invent scientific perspective, by Velasquez as above, by Rembrandt to multiply his subject matter and by Vermeer to augment his use of the camera obscura which I believe he used solely to observe unfocused light. Two mirrors crucially helped him to observe light and allowed him to work in a modest sized studio (3m deep). For artists and those who prefer practical explanations to miracles, I strongly recommend my answers to art historical questions.

I can also explain why I believe half the Elgin Marbles are Roman copies. Furthermore, to our surprise the Roman reproductions have been generally preferred to the Greek originals. (see my Elgin Arguments, Also on Youtube

). The extraordinary speed with which the Greeks freed themselves from the previous Egyptian formula which had endured 3000 years can be explained by their use of wax casts from life as the basis of their miraculous transformation in both bronze and stone (see The Bronzes of Riace for bronze and Dionysos for stone). These revelations bring the master works to which they refer down to human scale, examples from which living artists can profit.

I am still looking for a publisher for all this useful information, I have been looking since 1977.

Oct 222015

To become a Rembrandt scholar you need to pass out top of a prestigious course in art history. They are the crème della crème; but they are gravely mistaken about Rembrandt and resist correction no matter what the evidence for revision. This article is designed to convince you they need to be replaced. They will not renew themselves.

They have in fact stood Rembrandt on his head. Reversing his significance of perhaps the world’s most perceptive observer. They seek to persuade us that he worked largely from imagination. I believe that I have demonstrated this to be a fundamental mistake, yet they will not budge. As a simple example see my “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” on YouTube. I expect you will agree with me that Rembrandt was at his best as an observer.

Esau and Isaac

Click to play video

This disagreement as to whether Rembrandt relied on observation or invention is a fundamental error, which invalidates large areas of recent scholarship. An error from which Rembrandt scholarship is suffering and has suffer since 1922 at when this important drawing was dismissed – important because it shows us Rembrandt’s strengths and weaknesses. Because I accept the weakness I can believe in over 2,000 drawings by Rembrandt but the scholars’ refusal leads them to accept only 500! His position as a culture hero has fallen proportionately in my life time.

I find it very easy to win the observation argument, so I well understand why the scholars refuse to debate the point in public. Choosing instead to undermine my examples in their private world of scholarly publications so they can continue with their folly undisturbed. I have described the scholarship of Rembrandt drawings as “an unmitigated disgrace” for the following reasons:-

1. My paradigm changing discovery of Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors in 1974 has been neglected. These findings were published in the Burlington under that title in Feb.1977 (two eminent art historians, Prof. Sir Ernst Gombrich and Dr J. Montagu were thanked for their help in presenting my findings in that article). A similar article was published in Rembrandthuiskroniek vol.1 1978. In both I believe I proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that Rembrandt used groups of live models for himself and his students to work from. This idea is anyway corroborated by contemporaries of Rembrandt; what was all that theatrical wardrobe for if not to produce his groups? (an extensive wardrobe and props is seen in the inventory of his belongings taken in 1656.)
2.Recent Rembrandt scholarship has neglected the historical record, indeed reversed the known facts.
3. Over a period of 90 years they have apparently unanimously accepted this reversal, neglecting an abundance of evidence that should have warned them off. They do this in order to maintain their mistaken ideas of Rembrandt’s development as a draughtsman and his relationship with the school production; they have  substituted theoretical iconography where practical observation explains the school works better. These sins have suffocated the educational atmosphere of art history. The Rembrandt catastrophe could not have happen without unquestioning acceptance of the professor’s dictate.
4. The scholars refuse to discuss and continue with the destruction of Rembrandt in the face of overwhelming evidence of their folly – or worse.
5. As a sculptor of 60 years experience, I find their judgments often outrageous.