Magazine article The New Yorker

Young Master

Magazine article The New Yorker

Young Master

Article excerpt

Young Master

The Morgan Library introduces New York to an early Rembrandt.

At twenty-three, Rembrandt painted "Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver" (detail above).

Seeing an unfamiliar painting by Rembrandt is a life event: fresh data on what it's like to be human. A remarkable case in point is "Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver" (1629), now on rare loan from a private collection in England to the Morgan Library, where it headlines the show "Rembrandt's First Masterpiece," augmented with drawings and prints. The artist completed it when he was twenty-three, still living in his native Leiden and sharing a studio with his friend Jan Lievens. When Constantijn Huygens, the secretary to the Prince of Orange, visited the studio, he declared Rembrandt's picture equal to "all the beauty that has been produced throughout the ages."

In the smallish canvas, Judas kneels, writhing in anguish, amid a circle of elders in a busy temple. The coins--count 'em, thirty--lie strewn in a pool of light on the floor. Judas's head is bloody; some of his hair is torn out. His open mouth, showing teeth, suggests an utterance less coherent than his words in the Gospel of Matthew: " 'I have sinned,' he said, 'for I have betrayed innocent blood.' " Rembrandt similarly intensifies the elders' cynical response--"What is that to us?"--with recoiling postures of fear and disgust.

Light pours in from an unseen source to the left, casting sombre shadows, illuminating an open Torah and glinting, here and there, on iridescent fabric or reflective metal. …

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