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I, REMBRANDT by David Weiss



Pub Date: May 23rd, 1979
Publisher: St. Martin's

Weiss' previous biographical fictions--Rodin, Christopher Wren, Dr. William Harvey, etc.--have never been distinguished, even by Irving Stone standards; but none of them have had so little sweep and color as this two-year chunk from the life of Rembrandt van Rijn. The Amsterdam artist, age 48 in 1654 with career at low ebb, has three preoccupations during the months covered autobiographically here: money problems (creditors, bankruptcy); problems with the church over his refusal to marry his pregnant, live-in lady, Hendrikje; and a portrait of Jesus--for which, according to Weiss, the controversial (and reluctant) model is a Jew: young Baruch Spinoza--yes that Spinoza--who is himself in the process of getting excommunicated by the rabbis for his freethinking. I, Rembrandt also does some famous pix during this period--Anatomy Lesson, Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer--and he pals around a bit with a few fellow famous artists. ("" 'It is good to see you, Hals!' I exclaimed. 'What brings you to Amsterdam?' "") But, though Weiss tries to depict R.v.R. as first and foremost a man of intellectual independence (""Three heretics: Rembrandt, Spinoza, Jesus""), the man who matters--the painter--is hardly captured in stray references to chiaroscuro or such lines as ""Then I turned to my brush and to my beloved yellow. . . . ""Furthermore, the general history setting--a relative strength in other Weiss lives--is almost nil here; and there's less action and more talk than in any of the other books. But what really tips this dull book just over the edge into awfulness is the pseudo-poetry by Stymean Karlen that begins each and every chapter, introducing a mood that's more 1960s Southern California than 17th-century Amsterdam: ""I am only a flower/but I have speech/And I say hello to you/ My neighbor/ And soon I will say/ Happy Birthday/ Your flower. . . . ""Him Rembrandt? Catch the old Charles Laughton film bio instead.