Friday, September 21, 2007

Rembrandt and Friends

An article in the NYTimes this morning by Holland Cotter begins: "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a straight- forward title for a complicated show."

Even if you don't get thrilled over 400 year old paintings, the on-line presentation of this show is thrilling. Cotter takes us through 13 of the 228 paintings (all of which are currently in the Met collection) with gentle humor, enlightening observations and a few 'made-up' words -- well, maybe just obscure words, but there is no question of their meaning. He has chosen these few paintings as his own personal tour, writing "My goals were to find something of everything and to balance the familiar with the seldom seen." He suggests reading the 'exceptional' wall labels when visiting the show or studying the two-volume catalog for more serious information.

I poured a fresh cup of coffee and opened the article in one tab and the interactive map in another so that I could easily toggle back and forth to check out each work as I read about it. I noted that each description had a different focus. I thought it a whole art appreciation course in 13 easy steps -- connoisseurship, technique, style, influences, intrinsic value . . . . What a treat for a Friday morning!

1. “Portrait of a Man” Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
The funky condition of painting and what conservators found.

2. “The Visit to the Nursery” GabriĆ«l Metsu (1629-1667)
All the details are present, but it is a genre painting or a family portrait?

3. “A Country Road” Salomon van Ruysdael (about 1600-1670)
Setting the mood with "the dramaturgy of weather and the theatrics of scale."

4. “A State Yacht and Other Craft in Calm Water” Jan van de Cappelle
A marine painting where "light was its yin and yang." (one of my favorites)

5. “Still Life: A Banqueting Scene” Jan de Heem (1606-about 1684)
A "big, sloppy lobster dinner" with a mystery.

6. “Young Herdsmen With Cows" Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691)
An armchair traveler, this artist would have loved the Internet.

7. “Old Woman Cutting Her Nails” Style of Rembrandt
Checking the name on the label.

8. “Apollo and Aurora” Gerard de Lairesse (1641-1711)
A reminder of the Baroque influences as "Poussinian idealism and Dutch realism meet."

9. “The Dissolute Household” Jan Steen (1626-1679)
"Situation comedy and moral rebuke" depicted with panache.

10. “Interior of the Old Church in Delft” Emanuel de Witte (1616-1692)
An architectural rendering or a personal statement?

11. “The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John” Hendrick ter
Brugghen (about 1588-1629)
Influences on the mystical art of an altarpiece.

12. “Study of a Young Woman” Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
The known and the unknown.

13. “A Brazilian Landscape” Frans Post (1612-1680)
Creative documentation.

This week, I finished a paperback book which seemed old in my hands with its yellowed and brittle pages but which seemed new and fresh with its treatment of today's social issues and political climate. I was surprised to see that it was written more than thirty years ago.

After reading Holland Cotter's descriptions, these four hundred year old paintings also seemed new and fresh with artists facing the same issues and kinds of influences as those of today. Thanks, Mr. Cotter!

View more of the paintings and read related articles at Met Museum.


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