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One of the problems faced by Rembrandt biographers is the paucity of verifiable information about the painter. Court transcripts, auction sales records, and ecclesiatical summonses make up most of the primary sources; more intimate details are frustratingly lacking. Because of this, much of Mee's book is plagued with a tentativeness that sometimes dilutes the narrative. Repeatedly, he is forced to fall back on such quali-fiers as ""apparently,"" ""it may well be that,"" and ""it seems likely."" In large measure, however, his speculations ring true, and the final portrait is a convincing one. It is not surprising that Mee fails to come up with much in the way of original research in telling his story; the Rembrandt vein, skimpy as it is, has been mined with painstaking thoroughness for a least 200 years. What Mee does manage--and splendidly--is to organize a welter of previously published social, cultural, and artistic material into a coherent whole. The narrative is as crammed with colorful details--descriptions of rooms, lists of household effects--as a Dutch genre painting. The sights, sounds, and smells, the prejudices and pretensions of the world of 17th-century Amsterdam are vividly re-created. Mee's descriptions of Rembrandt's paintings and etching are especially evocative. More popular in its approach than Simon Schama's wide-ranging Embarrassment of Riches (1987), this is nonetheless a worthwhile and highly readable account of a man whose personal shortcomings stood in sharp contrast to the breadth of his artistic vision. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a vivid panorama of the world in which he lived.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Simon & Schuster