Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two Rembrandt etchings and two Piranesi's, a painting and a parable

Above is another example of a Rembrandt courtesy of, the prodigal son. The figure of the father and son in the middle form a pyramid or triangle, a rock solid and stable shape, as they lean into each other. This is the sort of thing that makes Rembrandt great, the human story is expressed not just in a narrative but in the design as well. You can see how effective the rich darks are in the etching. I guess there was a time when I could take it as a given that everyone knew the story of the prodigal son, but that may no longer be true. I have written before about the importance of cultural literacy for those who would enjoy our cultures art, here is an example.If you don't know the story the etching loses most of its power. So here is a brief synopsis. This is from the book of Luke in the New Testament.

The son has done the unthinkable and asked for his inheritance upfront before his father dies, upon receiving it he goes to a foreign land and parties with members of the hip hop community until the money is gone. He is reduced to working for a farmer who raises pigs and is envying their food. He decides to return home and beg to be a servant to his father, for even his fathers servants are better off than he is. His father sees him coming up the road and runs to meet him, he orders the servants to slaughter the fatted calf, get the son a robe and some sandals, and throw a party because his son has returned home. The older brother, returning home resents the fuss made over his vagrant brother ands protests that dad never gave him a goat with which to party, "My son, the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

Above is a Rembrandt painting where he tells the same story again. I think that must be the disgruntled brother on the right. Rembrandt must have enjoyed the ability of etching to give him the rich darks he used so much in his paintings as well. Here is a very different print that is very lightly bitten, it is a Rembrandt too but very open and airy.
Below is an etcher whose work is full of drypoint. These are by Piranesi, 1720 to 1778, about a hundred years after Rembrandt. These are from a series called the Carceri. These are a series of imaginary prison scenes that were sold in large folios. Tourists visiting Italy would return home with etchings from their travels and Piranesi and many others made etchings for this trade. I find these etchings fascinating. I think that lots of modern concept artists have looked at these. This could be Hogwarts. They are full of torture devices and catapults and infernal machinery.I will post a series of Piranesi etchings tomorrow.


Unknown said...

amazing stuff... The Prodigals are both extremely powerful. Look at the small detail in the painting - the son's shoes, one fallen off as he knelt down, and one worn through completely. The shaved head of the son probably has some meaning as well. As I recall, shaving the head was a sign of humility and repentance.
those last two etchings are incredible feats of drawing and perspective. I wonder if the stairways of Hogwarts found their
inspiration here?

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, you've made an excellent point.
Culteral lieracy was a given not too long ago. But now I wonder.
There are so many "prodicals" the
means or process is the focus, not
the story.
Story loses it's power and the focus gets trampled under foot.
Would a Rembrandt, could a Rembrandt exist today?
Powerful art still has a purpose.
(Or should I say Art still has a
powerful purpose.)
Your blog challenges, Thanks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rembrandt has that ability to make the story so powerful and human.For all of the play that the late 19th century guys get these daYS, I think Rembrandt is the king

Stapleton Kearns said...

I haven't seen any Rembrandt quality guys around today, but I don't see that it is impossible. Painting seems to be on an upwards curve theses days.My blog not only challenges it occasionally offends!

Philip Koch said...

The Rembrandts are pretty amazing. Even the little one of the bridge has always blown me away with its open space and amazing economy.

I have no idea what a Rembrandt of today would look like- his imagery is so much indebted to the times he lived in it is hard to separate him from that world. And more important is that he manages to speak to us so touchingly in his best work all these many years later.

Looking at the prints you've posted here I've been struck at how beautifully Rembrandt handled the big clusters of highlights, letting the brightness of the light fade out most of the detail. Just yummy! said...

Love the Carceri..reminds me of something you'd expect to see in one of the layers' of Dante's Inferno.And the theme here is prison and certainly the images captivate you and hold you on the page. No place to escape.

Odd Nerdrum can lay paint down like Rembrandt. His subject matter, however, not only offends(Smile), so most likely he will not be as widely accepted. But seriously, I consider him Rembrandt quality. And Lucien Freud can lay paint down there with the best. But Rembrandt did Rembrandt's first and so he will always be the best and the standard.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I does seem the times made that whole group of painters. The whole Dutch little masters thing only went on for two generations. Like Rock and Roll.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bith Odd Nerdrum and Lucian Freud seem to have modelked themselves on Rembrandt. I think the level of expressicveness in their handling is very different though. Just having handling, does not mean it is great handling. I think for instance that Freud gets a wretched surface. But if I am so smart, why m I not rich? I saw a constable show in Paris a few years back that was curated by Freud and he did a marvelous job. He hung the sketches for the six footers next to the finished works themselves.It was a painters idea of what a show should be.