Academic journal article
By Chapman, H. Perry
The Art Bulletin , Vol. 87, No. 2
AMY GOLAHNY Rembrandt's Reading: The Artist's Bookshelf of Ancient Poetry and History Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, 2003. 283 pp.; 8 color ills.; 64 b/w. $50.00
MICHAEL ZELL Reframing Rembrandt: Jews and the Christian Image in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 264 pp.; 114 b/w ills. $55.00
The books under review here provide insight into Rembrandt's engagement with his art by examining his intellectual life and, more specifically, his process of study as they relate to his broader culture. That Rembrandt was deeply engaged-intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, visually, physically-with his art may seem self-evident. But the notion of engagement as an operative mode has been obscured by the recent tendency to see Rembrandt as a marketer of both pictures and his image or brand. Influential scholars of the past two decades have presented Rembrandt as a Homo economicus and commoditizer of the self (Svetlana Alpers), his works as the product of his patrons and clients (Gary Schwartz), and his self-portraits as essentially marketing and teaching devices (Ernst van de Wetering).1 However valuable their arguments for situating Rembrandt as an innovator in the evolving, newly open and free art market of capitalist Holland, their legacy has been an overly simplified commercialized Rembrandt. Such commoditizing of Rembrandt participates in larger, interrelated trends of seeing Dutch (and other) art in economic terms; of leveling Rembrandt to make him just another Dutch artist (though perhaps one with superior marketing skills); and of debunking the notions of artistic genius. It is as if evidence of Rembrandt's outer-directedness-that he made money, had clients, marketed himself and his art, that art was his business-lets us off the hook when it comes to the age-old, still-compelling question of his inner-directedness, of what drove him.
The timely investigations of Amy Golahny and Michael ZeIl into Rembrandt's immersion in his literary and religious cultures prompt the question, Why on earth are we satisfied to think that an artist as enthusiastic about and in love with making art as Rembrandt would be motivated by profit and glory alone? Painters may be producers and pictures consumer goods, but as far back as the fourteenth century Cennino Cennini distinguished between artists who worked merely "for profit" and those who worked "through a sense of enthusiasm and exaltation."2 Likewise, the Dutch, in the seventeenth century, conceptualized artists impelled by a hierarchy of three motivating factors: as Cornells Ketel put it, in a poem reprinted in Karel van Mander's Het schilderboeck of 1603-4, the painter motivated by profit ranked at the bottom; honor and glory were worthier goals; but the painter spurred on by love of art derived the greatest satisfaction and deserved the highest praise.3 Even as the value of profit and glory were elevated in the mercantile Dutch Republic, as in Rembrandt's pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten's treatise on painting and the marvelous perspective box (National Gallery, London), love (still with remnants of its Platonic and Christian origins) remained the artist's greatest motivation and art's greatest reward. By love, liefde, the Dutch meant the lust (inclination) or aengheboren lust (inborn desire) for art that was part of the painter's natural talent. Van Mander characterized Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt's most famous townsman, after whose self-portrait Rembrandt modeled his own, as the great master driven by lust. "A master by nature" and "naturally gifted," Lucas was stimulated by his "natural impulses [aenporringe der Naturen]" and "desire for art [Consign lust]"; his "inclination toward art continually increased," thereby ranking him with the "great masters," in whom "the love of art flares up ... daily anew and increasingly stronger."4
Jan Orlers, Rembrandt's earliest biographer, cast Rembrandt as just this kind of naturally talented, gifted artist motivated by love-for whom art was not a choice but a calling-when he wrote that Rembrandt had "no desire or inclination [geen lust ofle genegentheyt]" for public service because his "natural urge [naluyrlicke beweginghen]" was for the arts of painting and drawing. …