REMBRANDT'S HOUSE by Anthony Bailey


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Tucked away in this tapestry of 17th-century Dutch life is a small, suggestive essay on Rembrandt the householder of Number 4 Breestraat and citizen of prosperous, confident, cosmopolitan Amsterdam. Just the sort of thing that Anthony Bailey (In the Village, The Light in Holland) might be expected to pull off with ingratiating ease. What he can't do is make a vital connection between the sparse facts of Rembrandt's life and the mass of minutiae he presents-because, in all too many cases, there isn't any. Once tiny, independent Holland is established as a ""weird and wonderful place"" and Rembrandt's living arrangements are reconstructed via the room-by-room inventory made to pay off his debts, the account, returning to his childhood, retraces its steps in ever-widening, less relevant sweeps. His first masterwork, Dr. Tulp's Anatomy Lesson, occasions an extensive discussion not only of public dissections, their history and conduct, but also of the prevailing treatment of criminals (who provided the corpses), public barbarity, and the persecution of witches. The painter's possible ""losses by sea"" trigger an account of Dutch tulip fever (to establish their speculative propensity) and the trading ventures of the East and West India Companies. About Rembrandt the artist, Bailey has far less to say than Kenneth Clark (see below) and almost nothing fresh or pointed; about the historic Rembrandt he is, finally, less helpfully informative than Christopher White in the similarly framing Rembrandt and His World (1964). Here the detail--mostly drawn, with acknowledgment, from specialized studies--muddles more than it illumines.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin