My raw passion for all kinds of art and seeing them first hand is still relatively adolescent, and so when compared to some, my painting-count must be low. Though, there must also be a large number of England’s population that have never, or have not in a significant amount of time visited an art gallery. I remember being astonished that an ex-boyfriend has never been to an art gallery before dating me. He was seventeen at the time – I assumed like I, he would have been taken on a school trip at least – though I suppose not everyone was brought up in London! Had I had known I may not have taken him to the Tate Modern in order to start his education in art.
This aside, I believe I may have seen in the region of one thousand paintings in my life – one thousand that I’ve been old enough to meet the eye line of; to recollect being there; and that I have paused pensively in front of. I’ve been around the National Gallery in London several times, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, to Picasso’s museum in Barcelona, and earlier this week – Van Gogh’s museum in Amsterdam, amongst others. Yesterday, I believe I saw the most stunning painting I have ever seen in my life – ‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn.
This is the art of beauty. It is both dainty and meticulous, like Michelangelo’s work or Willem Clasesz Heda’s still lifes; and dominant. Many people have allegorised beauty into a woman – Venus for example – and I can’t think of anything more appropriate than a very classy woman to characterise the beauty of this masterpiece. She is subtle and noticeable. She cries to be looked at yet is humble and not arrogant, because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. This is true because for the full length of time I’ve been familiar with Rembrandt, I’ve loved Rembrandt. I’ve read books about him, watched documentaries on him, and even been to his house, which is now a museum, and I’ve never seen this painting before. Either that, or I’ve seen it from a far, or in passing and not been given time to notice this boldness that disguises itself as subtly.
This painting is pseudo-relief. It may not be the first of his to use impasto, but it’s the best use of this dramatic tool known to me. It’s virtuosic yet completely within control. Most people think of freedom as being ideal, but unquestioned freedom leads to anarchy. Within the confines of order is perfect freedom – that is if freedom itself can be half-hearted.
The thick application of the oils provides a shiny reflective surface that is lit and alive. This woman is glamourous. The painting is more than the shadow artificially created by Rembrandt; it is the shadow created by this deep protrusion of paint. The light of the painting is more than the golden highlights on his sleeve and the sheens of her pearls; it is the reflection off the paint. Like how Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors transforms into a new painting from the side, this transforms into a new abstract reincarnation – as though it openly looks forward into the future of art and the impact of Rembrandt’s experimentation.
Never have I been so passionate about one individual painting, and never have I advocated seeing paintings first hand so keenly.
‘The Jewish Bride (Isaac and Rebecca)’ c.1665 by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn is part of the permanent collection of works from the Dutch Golden Era on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.