Rembrandt's Eyes

Front Cover
Random House of Canada, Limited, 2001 - Painters - 727 pages
2 Reviews
For Rembrandt as for Shakespeare, all the world was indeed a stage, and he knew in exhaustive detail the tactics of its performance; the strutting and mincing; the wardrobe and the face paint; the full repertoire of gesture and grimace; the flutter of hands and the roll of the eyes; the belly laugh and the half-stifled sob. He knew what it looked like to seduce, to intimidate, to wheedle, and to console; to strike a pose or preach a sermon; to shake a fist or uncover a breast; how to sin and how to atone; how to commit murder and how to commit suicide. No artist had ever been so fascinated by the fashioning of personae, beginning with his own. No painter ever looked with such unsparing intelligence or such bottomless compassion at our entrances and our exits and the whole rowdy show in between.
More than three centuries after his death, Rembrandt remains the most deeply loved of all the great masters of painting, his face so familiar to us from the self-portraits painted at every stage in his life, yet still so mysterious. As with Shakespeare, the facts of his life are hard to come by; the Leiden miller's son who briefly found fame in Amsterdam, whose genius was fitfully recognized by his contemporaries, who fell into bankruptcy and died in poverty. So there is probably no other painter whose life has engendered more legends, nor to whom more unlikely pictures have been attributed (a process now undergoing rigorous reversal). "Rembrandt's Eyes, about which Simon Schama has been thinking for more than twenty years, shows that the true biography of Rembrandt is to be discovered in his pictures. Though a succession of superbly incisive descriptions and interpretations of Rembrandt'spaintings threaded into his narrative, he allows us to see Rembrandt's life clearly and to think about it afresh.
But this book moves far beyond the bounds of conventional biography or art history. With extraordinary imaginative sympathy, Schama conjures up the world in which Rembrandt moved -- its sounds, smells and tastes as well as its politics; the influences on him of the wars of the Protestant United Provinces against Spain, of the extreme Calvinism of his native Leiden, of the demands of patrons and the ambitions of contemporaries; the importance of his beloved Saskia and, after her death (Rembrandt was later forced to sell her grave, so complete was his ruin), of his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels; and, above all, the profound effect on him of the great master of the immediately preceding generation, the Catholic painter from Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens: "the prince of painters and the painter of princes" with whom Rembrandt was obsessed for the first part of his life, and whose career was the shaping force that drove Rembrandt to test the farthest reaches of his own originality.
"Rembrandt's Eyes shows us "why Rembrandt is such a thrilling painter, so revolutionary in his art, so penetrating of the hearts of those who have looked for three hundred years at his pictures. Above all, Schama's understanding of Rembrandt's mind and the dynamic of his life allows him to re-create Rembrandt's life on the page. Through a combination of scholarship and literary skill, Schama allows us to actually see that life through Rembrandt's own eyes. In overcoming the paucity of conventional historical evidence, it is the most intelligently true biography of Rembrandt that has ever beenwritten, and the most dazzling achievement to date of the art historian whose work has been hailed as "marvelously rich and eloquent" ... "rare, imaginative" ... "provocative" ... "astoundingly learned with verve, humor, and an unflagging sense of delight" ... that of "a master storyteller ... and a master of history."*
Quotes from the "New York Times Book Review, Time, the "New York Times, The Independent on Sunday, and "Nature, respectively.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ChocolateMuse - LibraryThing

I just finished this book today, after reading it in bits and pieces for about a year. And wow, what a staggering work of art this book is! I don't really have a clue how to 'review' it adequately ... Read full review

Rembrandt's eyes

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Schama's baroque writing style may be controversial, but here he delivers something undeniably stunning. As much a study of the times as a biography, this richly rendered book builds detail upon ... Read full review

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About the author (2001)

Simon Schama is an historian, educator, and writer. He was born in London, England on February 13, 1945. Schama earned a B.A. in history in 1966 from Cambridge University and later became a fellow of Christ College. Schama was a Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Brasenose College, Oxford from 1976 to 1980. He also was an Erasmus Lecturer in the civilization of the Netherlands at Harvard University in 1978, and from 1980 to 1993 he was Professor of History and Mellon Professor of the Social Sciences and Senior Associate at the Center for European Studies. Schama has been the Old Dominion Professor of Humanities at Columbia University since 1993, teaching in the history, art history and archaeology departments. Schama's 1977 book, Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands, 1780-1813, received the Wolfson Prize for history and the Leo Gershoy Memorial Prize of the American History Association. Another book, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, won the NCR Prize for Nonfiction. Schama also worked as an art critic for The New Yorker and has written historical and art documentaries for the BBC. In 2001 he received the CBE. In 2006 Schama earned the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction for Rough Crossings. His more recent works include A History of Britain and The Sory of the Jews, both written in multiple volumes.

Rembrandt is the greatest painter of the Dutch School and one of the greatest painters of all time. With a glowing sense of color, he was often somber, with a tragic view of reality and the human condition and a wonderful eye for light and darkness. He was prodigiously creative:More than 600 paintings, more than 300 etchings (many of them masterpieces), and approximately 2,000 drawings (including many exquisite landscape sketches) have been counted. Biblical and historical subjects take up a large part of his work, but he was also a marvelous portrait painter, as we see in the portraits of his mother, his first and second wives, and his son, but above all in his searching self-portraits, done at various stages of his life---from the hopeful, lighthearted youth to the disillusioned but unflinching and deeply introspective old man. He completed more than 60 self-portraits---a record unique in the history of art. Born in Leiden, in the Netherlands, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631, where he spent the rest of his life. In his youth he loved luxury and the pleasures of life; later he became increasingly austere. Rembrandt was highly successful in his early years, but prevailing taste and his own style developed in very different directions. He died a poor and isolated man in 1669. The Night Watch and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (both in Amsterdam) are among his most famous paintings. Among the etchings, the Hundred Guilder Print stands out.

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