Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dutch Baroque (pt. 7)

In 1642, Rembrandt lost his wife (presumably to tuberculosis), and in the following months the artist began the practice of taking long walks in the country alone to help overcome his grief.  During this time he painted The Mill.
This painting once again carries out the invisible emotions in a very visibly symbolic way.  Solitude and loneliness are themes of this work.  A solitary, old windmill stands totally alone in the center of the painting, facing the light but haunted from behind by enveloping dark clouds that foretell death and devastation.  The people in the painting are all weary travelers stopping by the lake to gain refreshment from the water; but is anyone truly ever rejuvenated?  (This is certainly no Fountain of Youth.)  But for all its brooding drama of light and dark shadow and sky, the setting is quite calm and quiet, peaceful and tranquil in a transcendent way that only a person who has ever gone through such deep sentiments of sorrow can understand.
Rembrandt was widely known during this time to be a poor manager of his money.  He was a prodigious spender and collector; he would collect prints, portraits, clothing, and the like for his work, but it eventually led him to becoming broke.  There are stories of his students painting guilders (coins) and putting them on the floor to see if Rembrandt would pick them up.  His first wife—his only wife, I should say—was rather a well-to-do woman, but the only way he could maintain an entitlement to her fortune after she died was to never remarry.  So Rembrandt went on to take mistresses without marrying.  It was known that he was having an affair with his maid in the years following his wife's death because they were having children together before long.  The maid was excommunicated from the Dutch Reformed Church; Rembrandt was not.  This is because Rembrandt had never become a member of the Reformed Church and therefore maintained immunity from the practice of church discipline.  He attended but never joined the church, and it has been argued that this was because Rembrandt was an Arminian.  At first widely successful, the artist's high reputation gradually diminished for these reasons—kind of like how nobody really cares about Tiger Woods anymore because of the recent scandal involving his more disreputable personal life.

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