Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: "Rembrandt: The Painter at Work"

Rembrandt: The Painter at WorkRembrandt: The Painter at Work by Ernst van de Wetering

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book uses modern research and information that has come to light to reconstruct the work life of Rembrandt and his contemporaries. Copiously ilustrated. I found this fascinating.

For people interested in the actual studio practice of Rembrandt, the art materials and methods, this has a lot to chew on, and many myths are shattered. There are plenty of beautiful reproductions, for those who wish to skip the text, diagrams and x-rays. But in getting a greater appreciation for Rembrandt, it would be a shame if you do.

The author has been accused of taking more interest in the backs than the fronts. This is because he has exhaustively analyzed the thread counts and seams of Rembrandt's canvases. This is part of the background of the story.

Everything you knew is wrong. Artists had their apprentices spending long hours, building stretcher bars, preparing panels, stretching canvas, and priming. Well it may have been long hours, but not doing that.

Not. In Amsterdam, the painters bought pre-primed stretched canvases from the guilds. And of course, just like today, there were standard sizes of canvas--because there were standard sizes of frames pre-made.

It is unlikely that most painters (or their factoti) in the cities of his era built all their own stretcher bars or stretched all their own canvases, or ground their own paints. There were regular guilds who did this; there were even standard sizes, dictated by the looms of the sailcloth industry.

Much of the pigment grinding was done by specialists as well.

Much of what has been written about Rembrandt's working methods have been terribly wrong too. He had a very systematic way of working, even though his later paintings look very improvisational.

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