REMBRANDT'S EYES by Simon Schama


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An elegantly written, rewardingly exhaustive survey of the life, work, and world of the 17th-century Dutch master. Schama (Landscape and Memory, 1995, etc.) has produced a work of breathtaking ambition in which he tackles history, biography, religion, commerce, and art. He meticulously surveys Rembrandt’s work, describing in lucid detail the paintings, the painter, and the painter’s world. Since the young Rembrandt was so influenced by the older Peter Paul Rubens, Schama extensively analyzes Rubens’ own life and work. Schama also describes how the Protestant Reformation devastated Holland. Catholic Spain held Holland as part of its Empire, and terrorized those who sought Dutch independence in politics or religion. “In Holland in the late 1620s,” notes Schama, “Scripture was politics.” Rembrandt’s native Leiden, a hotbed of Calvinist theology, was especially rife with violent religious schisms. Meanwhile, Leiden was growing rich from the textile trade. Many of Rembrandt’s early patrons were wealthy merchants who viewed art as a means of showing off their success and exalting their character. Later, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where the merchants were even richer. Schama takes us on a chronological tour of Rembrandt’s work, providing illuminating commentaries and fitting each painting into the artist’s overall development. Schama knows his art history, especially Rembrandt’s crucial role: “Rembrandt’s economy of eloquence was of a piece with his approach to history painting, where he had already stripped away the clutter of detail distracting from the essential core of a narrative.” Rejecting the elaborate flourishes of the Italian masters, Rembrandt became the subtlest, most intimately interior painter of his time. The breathtaking expressiveness of his details and his eloquence in slight shadings of light and color make viewing Rembrandt’s work an unforgettable experience. For those trying to understand Rembrandt and his art, this book—combining dispassionate scholarship with an obvious delight in its subject’s brilliance—is simply a must.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1999
ISBN: O-679-40256-X
Page count: 728pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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