REMBRANDT’S WHORE by Sylvie Matton

REMBRANDT’S WHORE

by , translated by

KIRKUS REVIEW

Financial insecurity and the Plague hover threateningly over the great artist and his beloved servant, narrator of this sad and obtuse tale.

In 1649, a girl named Hendrickje Stoffels arrived in Amsterdam as a servant in the household of the master painter Rembrandt. Stoffels was a real person, used here by Matton in a fictional memoir from Stoffels’s perspective. The luxury of the big city is an adjustment for the girl—“For the first time in my life, I’m not going to sleep sitting up.” At 20, she’s a quick study, fits smoothly into the household’s workings, and is soon modeling for the master. With little fanfare, she also becomes Rembrandt’s lover and muse. But as Rembrandt’s fortunes decline, the outside world also begins to intrude on their happy home. The Plague is ever-present, with Stoffels’s country superstitions about it peppering the narrative. After she gives birth to a girl, she is known throughout the fickle city as “Rembrandt’s whore,” and when the artist’s debts force him into bankruptcy, society circles in closer, buying up his possessions at a humiliating auction. Meanwhile, the number of dead rises daily. Descriptions of life in 17th-century Amsterdam are sensuous and vivid, but Stoffels’s episodic story does too little to create tension or a sense of attachment to the characters. The girl’s love for Rembrandt is well rendered, but through her rose-colored view we see little of the real man. Characters enter and exit with little consequence, while so important a detail as the first romantic encounter between Rembrandt and Stoffels gets little prominence. A grimly amusing theme is Stoffels’s insistence—widely believed at the time—that cats and dogs were responsible for the Plague, but that rats were helpful killers of other vermin and should be spared.

Fans of Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring may snatch this one up, but in truth it seems less suited for a general audience than for Rembrandt enthusiasts.

Pub Date: May 20th, 2002
ISBN: 1-84195-175-7
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002




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