Rembrandt: Selected Paintings

Rembrandt: Selected Paintings

Rembrandt: Selected Paintings

Rembrandt: Selected Paintings

Excerpt

Ever since the earliest times, art in the Northern and the Southern parts of the Netherlands never had quite the same character; and in the seventeenth century this difference became more pronounced than it had ever been before. This was due to several causes. For one thing, present-day Holland and Belgium now became politically divorced from one another: Belgium continued to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Kings of Spain while Holland achieved her complete political independence. In Belgium, Catholicism remained the predominant form of religion, and this meant that, for painting, there was open, in the decoration of the churches, a vast field for the cultivation of the style of monumental design--the style of which the greatest Flemish seventeenth century artist, Rubens, was such a supreme master. Holland, on the other hand, embraced a form of Protestantism which was particularly opposed to the decoration of the places of worship: and the Dutch painters thus came to be shut off from one of the principal opportunities of developing a style of monumental design. Then, another difference between Holland and Belgium in the seventeenth century is that Holland was by far the more democratic community of the two, and a country whereas an English observer noted in 1609--if the immensely rich people were very few, the number of quite poor people was also very small; in Belgium, on the other hand, we find a much more unequal division both of political power and of wealth. Consequently, in Belgium, the painters found plenty of work in the production of great decorative paintings of historical and mythological subjects, of hunting scenes and still-life pieces on a grand scale, for the palaces and châteaux of the aristocracy; while in Holland, the painters were principally engaged in producing pictures for the much less grand homes of the well- to-do burghers, pictures generally of quite moderate dimensions and distinctly homely character--portraits, scenes from passing life, landscapes, still-life pictures and the like. In the Flemish school there is no lack of painters, whose works are of a kindred character; but they do not predominate as they do in the Dutch school. Now, if we take a general view of Dutch painting of the seventeenth century, we shall find that while the painters are rarely lacking in feeling for colour, they show, on the other hand, generally speaking, a tendency towards trivial realism and commonplace anecdote, as well as neglect of the problems of design--facts which are easily to be explained from the conditions under which Dutch seventeenth century art developed. The greatest Dutch painter of the seventeenth century, Rembrandt, was, however, an artist of deeply poetic imagination, indeed with a definite inclination towards the fantastic, and keenly interested in problems of design; and although his pupils were fairly numerous and his influence was widely felt, he is, nevertheless, something of an exception among the contemporary artists of the Dutch school, which is not dominated by him anything like as effectively as the Flemish school is by Rubens.

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