How Rembrandt Worked


“Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” discovered by Jan Six XI in a Christie’s catalog as a likely Rembrandt. Credit René Gerritsen/Jan Six Fine Art.

I liked the detail quoted below of how Rembrandt painted lace — the “hieroglyphic jumble” that coheres from afar– as well as the notion that a painted copy of a repetitive pattern actually looks artificial. This is helpful to a striving painter.

[Jan Six, Dutch art dealer based in Amsterdam] was particularly drawn to the lace on the collar. Lace was a signifier of status throughout the 17th century, and Six believes Rembrandt had a signature way of depicting this variety, which is called bobbin lace. Other artists of the period painstakingly executed its intricacies in white paint on top of the jacket. Rembrandt did something like the opposite. He first painted the jacket, then over it the collar area in white, then used black paint to create the negative spaces in the collar. And where other painters were careful to create repeating patterns in the lacework, Rembrandt wove a freestyle design. For viewers standing a few inches away from such a painting, the collar appears as a hieroglyphic jumble; step back a pace, and it coheres. Six believes this was one aspect of Rembrandt’s genius. “He realized that a painted copy of a repetitive pattern, even if it followed the original, actually looked artificial.”

(Russell Shorto, “Rembrandt in the Blood: An Obsessive Aristocrat, Rediscovered Paintings and an Art-World Feud,” NYTimes, 2-27-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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