What’s So Great About Rembrandt?

By Kahren Jones Arbitman

Aside from obvious family and friends, Rembrandt is the love of my life. I’ve been hooked since nine years old when I got my first riveting view of The Man with the Golden Helmet, albeit in a reproduction. No matter that years later my heart was broken with the realization that this cherished image was painted by one of his followers. It seems that there is something about the way Rembrandt puts pigment on canvas that is mesmerizing.

What’s So Great About Rembrandt?
By Kahren Jones Arbitman
Thu, Aug 18, 5pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta
150 pesos
20 pesos ticketing fee

But Rembrandt is only one of many world-famous artists working in 17th-century Europe: Caravaggio, Bernini, Vermeer, Velazquez are notable contemporaries. What gives Rembrandt the edge over these luminaries? It’s everything and nothing. Rembrandt did not really break the mold with his art. Unlike Caravaggio, he did not introduce an extraordinary new approach to painted light. Nor could he approach Vermeer’s painted verisimilitude. Come to think of it, very little is “new” about Rembrandt but everything he set his hand to is exceptional. How is this possible?

To answer the question, this lecture will focus on three great Rembrandt group portraits that span his career: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp (1632), The Nightwatch (1642), and The Syndics of the Draper’s Guild of 1662 (think Dutch Masters cigar boxes). Each of these paintings falls well within iconographic traditions established over centuries in the Netherlands. Like the canvases that came before his, Rembrandt includes the same stuffy Dutch burghers, the same starchy Dutch ruffs and cuffs, the same props and backdrops. And yet, his resulting paintings are unrivalled.

The explanation for these extraordinary results lies in Rembrandt’s unerring artistic exploration of his subjects. While creating the outward features and costumes of his sitters, he is ever mindful of their psychological states. His are not the usual staid Dutchmen turned out in fancy dress to have their likeness captured for posterity. Rather Rembrandt’s sitters bring with them a lifetime of experiences that play out on their faces. They don’t just sit, they think. Therein lies Rembrandt’s genius.

The lecture takes place Thursday, August 18, at 5pm in the Peralta Theater. Tickets are 150 pesos plus a 20-peso ticketing fee and can be reserved online at festivalsanmiguel.com. They will also be available the day of the lecture at the theater box office. It is the fourth of five lectures created to accompany the Festival Internacional de Música, which this August celebrates its 38th consecutive season. All proceeds benefit the festival. Please mark your calendar for the final lecture August 25: “It’s All in the Bass: How the Baroque Thoroughbass Changed Western Music Forever” by Mario Moya (in Spanish). All lectures begin at 5pm at the Peralta Theater.

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