Rembrandt's Reading

Rembrandt's Reading: The Artist's Bookshelf of Ancient Poetry and History

AMY GOLAHNY
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46mx5j
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  • Book Info
    Rembrandt's Reading
    Book Description:

    Although Rembrandt's study of the Bible has long been recognized as intense, his interest in secular literature has been relatively neglected. Yet Philips Angel (1641) praised Rembrandt for "diligently seeking out the knowledge of histories from old musty books." Amy Golahny elaborates on this observation, reconstructing Rembrandt's library on the evidence of the 1656 inventory and discerning anew how Rembrandt's reading of histories contributed to his creative process. Golahny places Rembrandt in the learned vernacular culture of seventeenth-century Holland and shows the painter to have been a pragmatic reader whose attention to historical texts strengthened his early rivalry with Rubens for visual drama and narrative erudition.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0521-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 9-12)
  4. PREFACE The Scope of the Study
    (pp. 13-16)
  5. CHAPTER 1 BOOK CULTURE
    (pp. 17-48)

    REMBRANDT’S OWN ATTITUDE TO READING may be illuminated by his many portrayals of readers. His portraits of men often include books to give tangible signs of the sitter’s profession, as preacher, accountant, or author. When the book is a Bible, it carries meaning invested in the divine word. The act of interpreting the divine word is a dynamic process; it involves the person portrayed and the viewer. In Rembrandt’s portraits of the Mennonite preacher and merchant Cornelis Claes Anslo, the prominent books are as significant as the figures. In the 1641 etching, Anslo sits at a table; upon the table...

  6. CHAPTER 2 REMBRANDT’S TRAINING
    (pp. 49-74)

    REMBRANDT’S FORMAL EDUCATION AND apprenticeships would have brought him in contact with a broad range of knowledge and expert practice, and are here worth discussing for the humanistic background to his art. It is surprising how Rembrandt’s education is evaluated in the critical literature: either negatively or not at all. Critics who regarded Rembrandt’s nudes as evidence of the imperfect and non-ideal placed Rembrandt among those who were uneducated, who followed imperfect nature, and who rejected ideal standards of beauty. Von Sandrart, Pels and other late seventeenth-century writers aimed their classicistic critique at Rembrandt. For them, Rembrandt’s art came to...

  7. CHAPTER 3 REMBRANDT’S BOOKSHELF PART I
    (pp. 75-96)

    THE INVENTORY OF 1656, MADE ON THE occasion of thecessio bonorum, is the primary document for Rembrandt’s possessions. It provides an abbreviated list of the books and an extensive list of the other precious objects, props, art, and miscellaneous items. In the course of making the inventory, items may have been moved around, and put in some semblance of order by category or size. In 1999, the Rembrandthuis exhibited a reconstruction of Rembrandt’s collection, including a jumble of books, musical instruments, naturalia, coins, medals, prints and drawings, and weaponry. The reality of Rembrandt’s house in 1656 may not have...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER 4 REMBRANDT’S BOOKSHELF PART II “15 books in various sizes”
    (pp. 97-134)

    REMBRANDT’S “15 BOOKS IN VARIOUS SIZES” were grouped together in thevoorkaemerof thekunstcaemer; they are listed between a box, containing a bird of paradise and six fans, and the three German books and old Bible. Listing books as a group was common in inventories where other items, including books, had more apparent value for illustrations or other qualities; in Rembrandt’s inventory, the illustrated German books were probably distinctive for pictures, language, and size; in the inventory, the nearby items were probably more exotic and valuable than the books. These fifteen books were a mixed lot, smaller than folio,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 REMBRANDT’S BOOKSHELF PART III German Folios
    (pp. 135-180)

    IN THE INVENTORY, THE “15 BOOKS OF VARIOUS size” are immediately followed by three illustrated German books (numbers 282, 283, and 284):

    A German book with war illustrations, “Een hoogduyts boeck met oorloochs figueren” [282];

    Ditto with woodcut illustrations, “Een dito met hout figuren[sic]” [283];

    A Flavius Josephus in German, illustrated by Tobias Stimmer, “Een hoogduijtsche Flavio Fevus, gestoffeert met figueren van Tobias Timmerman” [284].

    The identities of the first two of these German books may be suggested, and the identity of the third, is certainly known as the Josephus. The Josephus is a folio, and it is likely...

  11. CHAPTER 6 REMBRANDT’S LATER IMAGERY AFTER THE 1656 INVENTORY
    (pp. 181-206)

    FOLLOWING THE VARIOUS SALES OF HIS ART collection and household furnishings in 1655 and 1656, Rembrandt moved from the spacious Breestraat house to smaller quarters on the Rozengracht in 1658. Neither this relocation nor his straitened financial situation seems to have hindered his collecting habits. During the eleven years he lived there, he had amassed enough paraphernalia and art works to fill three rooms – the rooms that Magdalena van Loo refused to open to settle his estate, lest she might be liable for his debts.

    Rembrandt continued to attend auctions, and acquired some exceptional prints by the Carracci and...

  12. CHAPTER 7 ARTISTS’ LIBRARIES PRACTICALITY AND UNIVERSALITY
    (pp. 207-240)

    REMBRANDT’S INTEREST WAS IN COLLECTING art, not books. The 22 books noted in the 1656 inventory were far outnumbered by over 75kunstboecken, portfolios of prints and drawings by Rembrandt, his pupils, and Italian and Netherlandish artists. In this imbalance between library and art holdings, his interests are clear: his passion was for the visual, rather than the literary, arts. Artists who were renowned for their reading and for their possession of books were few in the Renaissance and Baroque, and those who amassed sizeable libraries often were art collectors; they were generally better off financially, through their earnings, investments,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 243-261)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 262-274)
  15. ILLUSTRATION ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 275-277)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 278-283)