So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rembrandt's Mother: Myth and Reality

Rembrandt's Mother: Myth and Reality by Christiaan Vogelaar & Gerbrand Korevaar is a book published in conjunction with a 2006 exhibit of the same name. It is in two parts with the first half being four scholarly articles, and the second half a catalog of art works. The articles talk about Rembrandt in his home town, the history of the identification of the old woman in his work as his mother, and the symbolism of old age in his paintings. They are scholarly, full of historic detail, and not written for a popular audience.

The second half of the book is a catalog of works by Rembrandt and other Leiden artists that feature his mother, father, sister and brother. Each is described with a history of its ownership, and a bibliography is included. There are about 60 pages each devoted to paintings of his mother and father, about 10 pages to works portraying his brother, and 5 pages to works of his sister.

The book succeeds at what it aims to be. I was drawn to it because I have developed a fondness for the way he paints his mother. She is most often portrayed reading books.

One of the articles, written by Anouk Janssen, that I particularly enjoyed has to do with how artists of the time portrayed old age, which for them was 40-60 years old. Old people were praiseworthy if they read the Bible or engaged in domestic chores; they were portrayed as blameworthy if they were miserly, lazy, or sensual. So while I see a woman who enjoyed reading a lot, Rembrandt was trying to show his mother as a pious person getting her spiritual life in order at the end of her life.

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