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As it is only a due recognition of the kind aid extended to art-study among the students by the present arrangement of the Gray Collection, that something be said of every series of prints exhibited, and as Rembrandt is a particularly interesting master, something about the fifty etchings by him now to be seen in Gore Hall may not be amiss.
It is exceedingly suggestive to have Rembrandt placed before one, directly after Durer, - for these two masters afford a very striking contrast. Rembrandt has been called subjective in his method of seeing and representing things, while Durer is plainly objective. Rembrandt often chooses a scene, not because it strikes him as particularly worthy of representation, but because it will allow him to apply in some striking manner his favorite chiaro-oscuro, - witness "The Flight into Egypt," - while Durer has in his mind solely the object as he sees it. Durer is continually struggling to express "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." This is nowhere plainer than in the delicate flowers which, in his portrait of Erasmus, are in a vase on the table.
The relation of Rembrandt to Durer may be compared to that of Euripides to Sophocles. Euripides does not scruple to put a fine maxim into the mouth of any character whose surroundings suggest it to him, even if it is out of keeping, while Sophocles sacrifices everything to making each character in his plays a whole, refusing to be misled by his own passing thoughts.
Among the etchings is a "St. Jerome in his Study," which we can compare with Durer's treatment of the same subject. In Durer's engraving everything is plain and clear. St. Jerome sits in his study, which is flooded with morning sunlight. Rembrandt gives us St. Jerome in a study which we are tempted to think partly underground. He is meditating, and the shades of twilight almost hide him from our sight. Behind him, by dint of repeated efforts, we discover a dingy stone staircase, which either goes up into a dark entry or ends at a door.
Durer gives us a vigorous old man engaged in earnest study. The technical means used are those by which he could best express what he saw. Rembrandt, on the other hand, having the same thing to express, forces us to peer through his artful darkness and lose our time in making conjectures as to where the staircase leads; in fact, if we can believe his great admirer, M. Charles Blanc, he draws upon our imagination for a lion. This seems too absurd to be true, but, nevertheless, in his criticism of this picture, M. Blanc speaks of "the lion which you think you see."
Having found some fault with Rembrandt, no fuller reparation can be made than by turning our attention to the world-renowned Hundred Guilder piece. Here Rembrandt makes himself immortal, and uses his chiaro-oscuro in a most effective manner. Professor Lubke has called Rembrandt, as compared with Vandyck or Rubens, a demagogue. This may be admitted, unless the bad sense of demagogue is too much insisted upon. It was most natural for Rembrandt, who lived and died in Holland, to depict what he had before him, and that was a government by the people. In this truly superb impression we have Christ at the height of his fame with the people, represented somewhat in the light of a demagogue. He is in the midst of a group of the sick, who seek in different ways to be healed by him. Next him, on the left, we have a most realistic group. A mother, old, haggard, and ugly, clasps her hands in despairing supplication to Christ that her daughter may be healed. Her daughter is stretched on the ground, at death's door, having only strength enough to stretch out her hand and try to touch the hem of Christ's garment. On the right we have a mother with her nursling, and wearing a look of incredulity; but she is pulled towards the healer of all ills by her little son. But on the left of the central figure is the most affecting group in the composition. A palsied old man kneels, supported by his weary wife, who looks toward Christ most piteously. To make the impression of woe more complete by contrast, there is sketched next them a chubby, smiling child, ignorant of what is going on around it. At the extreme left there is a negro, and in the background a camel appears. This is to indicate that Christ's name had spread abroad.
As a contrast to all this woe, we have, at the extreme right, a group of well to-do Pharisees, one of whom has a particularly malicious and mocking smile. On the right next Christ we see Socrates. It is possible that Rembrandt, through his "cult of the ugly," might have developed the head of Socrates from his inner consciousness, but it is sure that he did not, since he owned a bust of Socrates, which is mentioned in the inventory of his art treasures which were sold for his debts.
One of the most remarkable points in this picture is its unity of composition. There is not a figure in the whole which you cannot bring into relation with the central one. Each betrays his character in the manner of presenting himself to Christ's attention. But when you examine this figure which commands the whole assemblage, you are disappointed. M. Blanc declares that the Christ has the serenity of a God. He says: "Be not surprised if the Son of God is more beautiful than those who surround him; for though issued from the people, he is still of David's race; his features are at once real and noble." The truth is, that you are surprised, but not for the reasons M. Blanc gives, - just the reverse. Rembrandt's Christ has features that may be called real, but no one ought to call them noble. In spite of this defect, the Hundred Guilder piece is a truly powerful composition, and no one who studies it with attention can escape its influence. The deep velvety black which sets forth the central group casts a shade of gloom and mystery over the whole, and the effect is like that of Schumann's music, - say one of his Romanzas.
Want of space will not allow the mention of any of the landscapes or portraits; but if the above induces a single person for the first time to study the Hundred Guilder print, it will have done as much good as any article of the kind can hope to do.
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