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Rembrandt's Eyes Paperback – October 23, 2001
The Amazon Book Review
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From the Inside Flap
t as for Shakespeare, all the world was indeed a stage, and he knew in exhaustive detail the tactics of its performance; the strutting and mincing; the wardrobe and the face paint; the full repertoire of gesture and grimace; the flutter of hands and the roll of the eyes; the belly laugh and the half-stifled sob. He knew what it looked like to seduce, to intimidate, to wheedle, and to console; to strike a pose or preach a sermon; to shake a fist or uncover a breast; how to sin and how to atone; how to commit murder and how to commit suicide. No artist had ever been so fascinated by the fashioning of personae, beginning with his own. No painter ever looked with such unsparing intelligence or such bottomless compassion at our entrances and our exits and the whole rowdy show in between.
More than three centuries after his death, Rembrandt remains the most deeply loved of all the great masters of painting, his face so familiar to us from the self-portraits painted at every stage in his life, y
About the Author
Simon Schama was born in London and since 1966 has taught history at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard universities. He is now Old Dominion Professor of the Humanities in the departments of art history and history at Columbia University. He is the prize-winning author of several works, including The Embarrassment of Riches, Dead Certainties and Landscape and Memory. He lives outside New York with his wife and two children.
From the Hardcover edition.
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This book is about, to my opinion, the best painter of mankind, his life and work. It is also a dual biography about Rubens, since he was so important for Rembrandt.
The book works nicely chronological and winds its way through the younger years of Rembrandt til his last years. In the mean time we also learn a lot about not only his life in Leiden and Amsterdam, but also about the history of Holland of the 17th century. It is absolutely great to learn about for instance the Night Watch, for whom it was painted, who the people are on it, why it was so revolutionary and still the most stunning 17th century painting.
I always wanted to know, as far as recorded history allows us, about the background of his paintings; who ordered it, did they and Rembrandt like it themselves? And most of all: analysis of the paintings themselves: what 'effects' are used, and how? This book goes into wide details of this all without getting repetitive or boring.
Rembrandt is unique among all painters in his combination of talent and 'raffinement'. He could do anything: super precise works, impressionistic style where the paint itself was the 3d effect, portraits, group portraits, history paintings, landscapes, the best etches off all time. His touch and well-aimed strokes immediately got to the essence. His works under scrutiny come out even more unsurpassable and amazing. It is true that none of his students ever came close to his talent, and some of them tried for the rest of their life to master just some aspect of his art (for instance the light effects) while Rembrandt moved on to a more 'rough' style, although it was justly called in this book deceivingly easy to imitate, and of course, 'rough' here does not mean carelessly painted.
Basically he is the first (and best) impressionist in the history of painting.
I have been at the Rijksmuseum many times, and it does not matter which work you look at: Jeremia, his mother reading, the Jewish Bride, his hypnotisingly beautiful self portrait at a young age, it just shows that this is a once in a mankind kind of thing. Rembrandt has shown us once and for all what the art of painting can do, how it can lift our lives by trying so dramatically to imitate it. Indeed looking at his work, it almost seems that his paintings are triumphant over reality.
This book is a great read and the many colour pictures of his work are, needless to say, a pleasure to look at.
Only minus is, that Schama to my opinion is a little too modest about Rembrandt's genius.
This book is not a volume of color plates with tersely rendered explanations. It's a dense and textured treatment of one of the pinnacles of the Rennaissance: Rembrandt van Rijn. But how, exactly, did he get to be so universally famous? Schama pieces together the artist's earliest influence - the mega-star Rubens - and the effects of the Calvinist/Catholic conflicts on Dutch society. You will never look at the strangely mournful, pensive face of Rembrandt in the same way after reading "Rembrandt's Eyes".
The book itself is excellently created, with over 700 pages of glossy paper drenched in intelligently set text. The illustrations, while too small in some cases, are well placed to support Schama's descriptions, and the book has a heft that more than justifies the price. This is a book to read with relish.
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