Monday, July 22, 2013

Dutch Baroque (pt. 8)

And thus we come to the late works of Rembrandt before his death, where his style changed from specific attention to detail to less and less fully developed, concrete forms.  A kind of social outcast, financially bankrupt, and alone, Rembrandt's later self-portraits display him as the saintly martyr to society which he viewed himself as.  When given his last public commission, then, to paint a work for the newly constructed city hall, the artist let his disdain and bitterness towards society come out in The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, which was rejected and sent back to Rembrandt, who then destroyed most of it for resale (the image we see today is only a fraction of the original painting).  Soon after, the artist grew so desperate for money that he was forced to sell his wife's grave.
Here we see a chapter from the account of Tacitus' Histories being portrayed: the meeting of the lower-class conspirators, led by Claudius Civilis, in forming the Batavian rebellion (ancient Dutch) against the Romans in 69-70A.D.  This is how the Dutch civilization was born; every citizen in Amsterdam would know it.  What could be more appropriate for city hall, remodeled to celebrate Dutch society?  But look at the painting's composition.  It looks more like a rough sketch than a finished painting; the glorious rebels look like barbaric and haggard old ghosts—or are not given clearly distinguishable faces at all.  The lighting of the work is impossibly contrived, and the color scheme is a bland blob of browns spilling with repressed reds and sickly yellows.  The lines deviate and the shading varies in splotches.  The individuals' faces look like cartoon drawings, and the leader, Claudius himself, comes across as a deformed figure of feigned political and military authority.  His facial wound from battle is cast in full view; he is a one-eyed Cyclops of a man, ugly and animalistic.  Why did the artist choose to paint it like this?  It was his last chance to impress his Dutch audience, but Rembrandt didn't care about that.  He had always painted his own face with his nasal wart and unattractive wrinkles showing.  How much more, then, would he exploit the lesser qualities of his peers who had lowered him in their minds to such meager social standing?  This, in turn, is Rembrandt's scathing review of his peers.  By painting the founding of the Dutch civilization, he attempts a comprehensive portrait of the Dutch people themselves.  In a way, this is Rembrandt's final portrait, and it is a portrait of his fellow townsfolk in all their broad imperfection.  A bitter old artist gets his revenge against a society that had cast him out and left him alone, like the windmill on the hilltop from the painting he had done twenty years earlier.  And that is how Rembrandt died.

No comments:

Post a Comment