«There is no painter who does not consider himself a Rembrandt», one day Pablo Picasso will have his companion Françoise Gilot here. Indeed, the Dutch genius became an archetype of the artist, intense, irascible, a little eccentric and, in the end, talented, deeply unhappy.
It is this distinguished guest that the Calouste Gulkian Museum will host until September 2 – nothing Rebrandt Harment, here swims1 by Auto-ret with Boinasen and Duas Correntes, around 140, on loan from the Thys-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.
«This painting has gone through many ups and downs», points out Luísa Sampaio, curator of the mini-exhibition that joins this visiting work as two paintings attributed to Rembrandt from the Gulbenkian collection. «The ancient provenance of the son of Eugène de Eugène, prince of Venice, stepson of Napoleon, hands of Josephine, around 1805. The painting arrives in 1975, after the Dutch, English, etc. In the country of the tsars, the painting would have been cut to fit in a new frame. It is not unique to Rembrandt – it is thought that the Night Watch went through the same and that the artist sawed with his hands the largest of his works, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis.
Looking closely at Thyssen’s self-portrait, one can notice, especially on the right cheek, the absence of the pasty technique characteristic of the Dutch master. His skin looks too smooth and rosy, as if it’s been through the filter of image editing software.
This particularity is largely due to the fact that the painting was probably repainted and cleaned very diligently, which led to the questioning of authorship. However, there is the presence of presence that this is a legitimate Rembrandt – the fact is that this one not only displays the resemblance, but emanates a special one, typical of the Dutch master.
Rembrandt van Rijn (‘from the Rhine’, as Luísa Sampaio explains) was born in Leiden, Holland, in 1606, the youngest of at least ten children. “His father was a miller, but he was a downcast man. And his mother was the daughter of a baker, who was also a downcast man”, continues the commissioner. His parents «provided him with an excellent education, he attended the University of Leiden, where he studied Latin». However, his natural inclination was towards painting, of course and due to the lack of interest in letters, he was placed as an apprentice in the workshop of Jacob Isaacs. van Swanenburg, where he soon showed his talent. According to his first eliographer, he also passed by the reputed Pieter Lastman, for his technique’s first biographer. There he just settled and settled himself to contact reason. As early as 1628, his dowries attracted the attention of the Prince of Orange.
An ‘ugly and commoner’ face
«Rebrandt painted a work that we think is very vast, in an important way it is not that vast, but as we have recorded it. For 40 years, the Stitching Foundation did an in-depth study – the fakes, the ones that weren’t fakes, the ones that ‘returned to’ Rembrandts – and there are 300 left. Rembrandt has a career of about 40 years, so he didn’t paint that much , made about seven paintings a year», notes Luísa Sampaio. Of these approximately 300 works, forty are self-portraits. «It makes us think that Rembrandt was worried about his image throughout those 40 years». But don’t think that the artist made them out of vanity.
“Rembrandt, in person, was very different from all other men”, wrote the biographer Filippo Baldinucci, in 1686. “The ugly and commoner face with which he was bestowed was accompanied by dirty and unkempt clothes, as he was in the habit, while similar tasks, pins of identical tasks, and doing nature».
But, with the brush of a great artist, even an “ugly and plebeian face” can become something extraordinary. More specifically, one of the greatest feats in the history of painting. “Rembrandt managed to put more on his face than anyone before or after him, because he saw more,” declares David Hockney, one of the greatest painters of our time. “The Chinese say that it takes three things to make a painting: the hand, the eye and the heart. I think this observation is very, very good. Two are not enough. a good eye and [um bom] heart are not enough, just as a good hand and [um bom] eye. This applies to every drawing and painting made by Rembrandt. His work is a great example of the hand, the eye and the heart».
As for self-portraits, they are not all the same. «Rembrandt made many self-portraits in which he is looking not for himself, but for expression», explains Luísa Sampaio. «He made them in engraving – many appear amazed, afraid, angry, happy, a bit of a clown, beggar… in every way». One of the aspects that the commissioner studies demystifies is that self-portraits like Thyssen’s would be purely introspective, purely psychological, for the painter’s strict enjoyment.
«Rembrandt is an extraordinary painter, he paints drama in an unparalleled way, but he is a very pragmatic man, a man who thinks about the market all the time. In fact, he acts as an art dealer, builds a collection, goes bankrupt a little because of the purchase of the collection and his extraordinary expenses, ends up going bankrupt in the 1660s. But his self-portraits are the first study of expression, and then he will do what is called a self-portrait in antiquity, in ancient times».
This is where the painting that can be seen at the Gulbenkian comes in. «This autorret certainly seems to us to be a figure from the 17th century, it is not exactly». The key is perhaps the fur-lined doublet, a very fashionable accessory in the 15th and 16th centuries. “There is another brutal influence in his work, which is to be represented in the manner of the Italian Renaissance artists that he admired so much, such as Titian or Raphael”, a painter like Titian or responsible.
«Through these references, the author-portrait will pay homage to the great painters. But at the same time it is showing: ‘I am one of them, I am one of the greats, I will go down in history like the great painters of the Renaissance’».
Rembrandt was by this time – c. 1640 – at the height of its fame. The self-portrait with Saskia, from a few years earlier (1636), shows a young, joyful couple celebrating life. His most famous work, The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, better known as The Night Watch, was completed in 1642. But it was changing. That same year, Rembrandt lost Saskia. It was the beginning of decline – in social terms, of course.
“In 1656, when he was 50 years old, Rembrandt declared bankruptcy”, recorded Rudolf Wittkower. «The collections, which were acquired from its 17 thousand florins, are sold. They made five thousand florins. Two years later he was forced to sell his palatial house for an economic sum and move to a poor neighborhood ».
Rembrandt’s collection gives an idea of his universe – as well as the cosmopolitanism of Amsterdam at the time. «There are weapons, costumes, cups and baskets from the Far East» Near and identified weapons, Seymour Slive. There were even armor from Japan. «A section consists of natural curiosities, terrestrial flora and fauna and, minerals, horns, a lion skin, an embalmed bird of paradise […]. There is no lack of sculpture. All buses booked from emperors and are worthy of Romans that Rembrandt organizers organized in order».
All this Rembrandt had to renounce. But the social downfall will probably not feel too worried about my spirit, I must not seek freedom».
Furthermore, what he lost in fortune, his work gained in depth. It was at the end of his life that he painted, for example, The Jewish Bride. Vincent van Gogh, who considered Rembrandt “a magician”, said of this painting in these terms: “I would gladly give ten years of my life to be able to spend a fortnight in front of this painting, with only a crust of dry bread to eat”.
The moving The Return of the Prodigal Son, the most famous painting in the Hermitage Museum, was also finished in the year of his death, 1669. At Gulbenkian we cannot see this one, but we can see, side by side with Thyssen’s self-portrait, the Figure of Old Man and Palas Athena – both acquired by the Armenian collector precisely from the St. Petersburg museum, in 1930.
The visitor-work initiative, started with this self-portrait, goes by year. The next guest work will be revealed, António Filipe Pimentel, director of the museum, a fragment of a tapestry by Giulio Romano, from the Poldi Pezzoli museum in Milan.