Schama has been able to put into words what it is about a number of individual paintings that makes me respond to them with strong emotions. His analysis is at once insightful in terms of techniques used but also in terms of the effect gestures and body postures have. I have read other books on Rembrandt but Schama digs that little bit deeper into the chronicled events of Rembrandt's life the loves and tragedies he experienced. He illuminates the humanity of Rembrandt which we see in his self-portraits and attempts to answer questions I have had for a long time. Such has what prompted him to paint different self-portraits at different times of his life and the his relationship to the women in his life and in his paintings. A great book.
I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Don’t be put off by its physical weight! It’s actually the intertwined stories of two great painters – Rembrandt and Rubens. The idea that Rembrandt was motivated by envy of Rubens is an interesting one. Rubens lived in a palazzo in Antwerp with handsome sculptures and an elegant garden. Rembrandt lived in a more modest home with his interesting collection of artifacts including a stuffed armadillo. They are so different from each other and you love them both by the end of the book. As you’d expect from an art historian, there is vast insight into each painting (accompanied by excellent reproductions). If you then travel to see these paintings in the flesh (as you must!), his words come back to you and add immeasurably to your appreciation of the breathtaking and arresting portraits. Now you know why you love these paintings so much. But you get so much more than art criticism – you get to live and smell Amsterdam as Rembrandt would have done. One chapter recreates Amsterdam through the senses – sight, sound, touch etc – a work of pure imagination and one that could only have come from a writer for whom Amsterdam in the seventeenth century is a real as New York in 2003. But best of all is the humanity which pervades the book – Schama’s, Rembrandt’s and Rubens’s. Rare men all.
In this wonderful biography-cum-monograph, Simon Schama reveals his genius as a historian as well as an art historian. He summons up the world of 17th-century Holland in all its colour, vitality and squalor with amazing vividness. Rembrandt's life - first in Leiden, then in Amsterdam - is known only in general but Schama resurrects it with the imagination of a novelist. You can smell, hear and taste the world of the painter as well as see it - the book could be called Rembrandt's Nose (a splendid bulbous organ, judging from self-portraits) or even Rembrandt's Ears. This is apposite, for Rembrandt painted the world he saw around him, rejoicing in human imperfection, indeed ugliness. No trace in his work of the idealised Italy that allured many contemporaries - though Rubens, who was affected by Italian art, greatly inspired and influenced the Dutch painter, something I had not fully realised before. The opening chapters are about Rubens. The book is well illustrated but few of the pictures are reproduced on a large scale, which can mean squinting at the details that Schama perceptively describes.
If there is one book about Rembrandt, which not only gives the historical background to Rembrandt's life, mainly based on the excellent research by Gary Schwartz, but is also able to stimulate us to look more carefully and sympathetically at the paintings themselves and Rembrandt's personal life, a book which is written in a style which is enjoyable and stimulating, typical of Simon Schama, then this is the BOOK ABOUT REMBRANDT. As a bonus, which at first you might think as I initially did is not relevant, is a large section about Rubens. However, when one gets acquainted with Rubens, it becomes clear that Rubens was a man of his and for his time, but Rembrandt's work has significance and meaning not only for his time, but for centuries to come. Through Rembrandt's work and also this book we learn to be engaged with art in a deeper and more personal way. Adriaan Luijk
This is one of the most interesting and well written biographies that I have ever read. The author actually covers two biographies running side by side, that of Rembrandt and that of Rubens. This give the book that little bit extra by keeping the reader interested as the plot changes from one to the other. However the book also discusses the art of these two great artists in detail and in that respect it is more than just a biography. The standard of illustration is good with plenty of good quality colour prints. Many of them are full page size. I would recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in Rembrandt or European art.
Simon Schama's journey through the painting and politics of the Seventeen Provinces, soon to become modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands, is the usual joy of extraordinarily readable and quirky erudition and instinctive insight into a painter's world view and thought processes. Lavishly illustrated - we all enjoy the pictures! - the reader enjoys a real portmanteau of a book that covers much of the work and life of the scholarly yet as life-embracing Peter Paul Rubens as well as the in-depth study of Rembrandt with the added extras of fascinating insights into the lives and spheres of influence of a large number of artists, statesmen, scholars, burghers and nobles of the age. Indulge the senses in the artistic riches of this book but be aware that for Schama, the horror of the Wars of Religion and the trials and tribulations of the human condition as well as its triumphs are never far below the often glittering surface.
If you ar elokking for a book with pictures of Rembrandt's paintings and a short description of what they are buy another book, but if you are in the mood for Rembrandt in his time, learn more about the political changes in the low lands in Rembrandt's time this is it... Read about the artists that influenced Rembrandt (Pieter Paul Rubens being one) and how Rembrandt becane the toast of the town.
So if you are interested in art, and history, this is your book, this is your writer.
This book was an absolute surprise to me, as I had little references from both Rembrand as a painter and Simon Schama as an author. Not also the life of the painter is amazing, the writhing superb, but the quality of the book as an object and of the prints (more than many) leave you fascinated.
Utterly brilliant biography. I read this shortly before going to the Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery and Schama's arguments really put his works into perspective. This may be a very large book but Schama's style keeps you turning page after page. The quality of the images in the book is also excellent. I'll definitely refer to this book again!