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Culture news, 24.03.2006 16:09
Master of printsTo mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt, the State Hermitage Museum is displaying its entire collection of the master’s etchings and prints. These works reveal that Rembrandt the printmaker was second only to Rembrandt the painter.
On July 15 the world celebrates the 400th anniversary of the birth of one of the most exceptional and enigmatic figures in art history — Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, also known simply as Rembrandt.
The State Hermitage Museum, which features a notable selection of the paintings of the 17th century Dutch master, has joined the celebration with a not-to-be-missed exhibition, “Rembrandt Prints from the Collection of Dmitry Rovinsky.”
According to Roman Grigoriyev, director of engravings at the Hermitage and curator of the event, this is Russia’s largest and most comprehensive collection of the master’s prints. It is the first time that all 340 of the artist’s prints have been put on display since the collection was given to the Hermitage in 1897 in accordance with the will of statesman and collector Rovinsky.
“The exhibition is dedicated not only to Rembrandt. It pays respect to Rovinsky and it displays everything that was considered by him to be a ‘Rembrandt.’ At the same time, of course, certain corrections to attribution have been made in accordance with the present state of things,” Grigoriyev told The St Petersburg Times.
The naming of Rembrandt’s prints and deciding whether they really are by Rembrandt is a problem that has existed for hundreds of years and continues in the present day. The number of catalogs raisonnÎ of the Rembrandt legacy on display (books containing various versions of the same print), including three volumes of Rovinsky’s “Atlas,” demonstrates some of the attempts to fix this problem.
The issues arise from the essence of etching itself. The reason for compiling such catalogs is that an etching can have several states — intermediate variants of an image — and a certain number of high-quality impressions. This has direct effects on the market, and Rembrandt’s prints were already collectable during his lifetime.
As an engraver, Rembrandt was second only to Rembrandt the painter. Moreover, Rembrandt was more diverse in his prints — in addition to his traditional painting genres such as portraits and illustrations of biblical, mythological or historical subjects, with his prints he produced landscapes, nudes, and even one still life.
The Hermitage exhibition arranges all this in two halls marking two periods: works produced in Leiden, where the artist was born in 1606, and those made in Amsterdam where he moved as an established artist around 1632 and spent the rest of his life until his death in 1669.
The artist’s principal print technique was etching, then a new invention and which, thanks to Rembrandt, reached an advanced stage of development.
As in his paintings, light was a structural element in Rembrandt’s prints. Etching allows the thinnest gradation and smooth treatment of light and shade to reach the painterly effect of chiaroscuro in a printed medium.
The Swiss art historian Heinrich WÚlfflin, when he analyzed the difference between High Renaissance and Baroque styles, used Rembrandt’s etchings as one of the most mature and apt visual manifestations of Baroque principles for their painterly effects, their flickering, moving forms, their vision of depth, their optical sense of objects, and the obscurity of the image.
Such complexity was due to Rembrandt’s constant experimentation. In a distinct number of the prints on display, he suggests a remarkably wide variation of methods. Some parts of the etching are worked in great detail, while the rest is half-elaborated or simply given in outline.
If in the early works this can be explained by the necessities of production, in the mature period this “unfinished-ness” becomes a means of artistic expression. This happens, for example, in “The Hundred Guilder Print” (circa 1648). This etching is also a striking example of the artist’s inventive practice of combining different techniques (usually a mixture of etching, drypoint and burin), and how it benefits artistic vocabulary.
“Although quite a significant number of works are not signed by the master, in the case of ‘The Hundred Guilder Print’ list, there was no need — simply because there was no artist who could have done it at the same level of complexity and virtuosity,” Grigoriyev said.
With the same logic, Rambrandt turned some traditional technical defects in etching into a means of artistic expression.
Rembrandt was also one of the first artists to experiment with different kinds of papers and vellum. In order to emphasise this or that effect he would use common white hand-made European paper or oriental paper from Japan and China, which was more luxurious and expensive, for a soft visual effect.
Perhaps one of the most distinct features about Rembrandt’s print art is how frequently and thoroughly he could rework the plate and where the alteration of the states of one etching could be significant.
“This is a case in which Rembrandt’s continuous explorations luckily corresponded to the market for collecting,” Grigoriyev said.
Indeed, in different states the artist could add or clear away effects, details and figures from the plate, that is, with little change to the new state it could be sold as anew. In certain cases, we can now see narratives or a kind of conceptual program in such developments of the image through its various states.
“Sometimes we can bring in the category of time in such sequence of states of one etching,”Grigoriev said.
Perhaps, the most exciting and semantically motivated effect could be found in “The Entombment” (1654).
Rembrandt set the scene in a huge arched space — a grave where a body is to be lowered. The artist began with a light scene in the first version and from there on it became darker until he put the whole scene in the finalfourth, version in almost complete darkness.
“Like a stage director, Rembrandt put out the light in the etching by degrees,” Grigoriyev said.
“Rembrandt Prints” runs through June 11 at the Hermitage. www.hermitage.ru
Keep track of all Rembrandt events between July 15 2006 and July 15 2007 at www.codart.nl/rembrandt_2006/
By Andrei Vorobei
Special to St. Petersburg Times
News source: times.spb.ru
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