By Raoul Middleman
Before going to this exhibition, my expectation, based on what I already knew about Rembrandt's life and work, was for an altogether different kind of painting. In my readings, I had gleaned that Rembrandt had tremendous appetites which he could not curb. His person, as well as his paintings, dealt in extremes. It was his custom, when working, to wipe his brushes on himself. There was always paint under his fingernails. You couldn’t take him anywhere. The circular heft of his bodily corpulence, as illustrated in countless etchings, was just the visible edge of an inner, pathological embonpoint. A spendthrift, he squandered his first wife's money until he was on the dole, his bankruptcy managed by his second wife, Hendrickje, and his son, Titus. He went broke partially because of his mania for collecting bizarre or picturesque curiosities at sales on public auction. So I fully expected to see a plethora (maybe I was thinking too much about Rubens) of miscellaneous studio bric-a-brac: antique helmets and shields, halberds, daggers, sabers, cuirasses, musical instruments, old lace and copper pots or whatever else struck Rembrandt's fancy. Rembrandt loved to paint things that have outlived their use. (He outlived all his children and ail his wives). Perhaps a frayed remnant dug out of the prop closet would appear in some corner of the painting to display all the richness of its rotted threads. Or he would exploit opportunities to catch the light, such as the vertiginous light that spills down the spiraling staircase to find an opalescent cache of jewels lingering in an open chest; or, if outdoors, the scrofulous bark of some old blasted oak. I fully expected his excessive nature and extravagant appetites to feed on all the neglected oddities of the external world, phenomenological surrogates, no doubt, for himself.
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