Rembrandt's Eyes (Allen Lane History) Hardcover – 25 Oct 1999
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The great 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn left us so many arresting self-portraits, painted at every stage in his eventful life, that his distinctive face and bearing are a familiar part of the 20th-century cultural landscape, a recognisable presence in galleries across Europe and North America. Nonetheless, the artist himself remains tantalisingly an enigma. A notoriously difficult man and an inveterate risk-taker in life and art, Rembrandt's aspirations to a grandiose Amsterdam lifestyle in the heyday of his popularity as a painter of portraits and large-scale historical works bankrupted him and he died in relative poverty. His personal effects and his treasured collection of paintings and natural rarities were sold off and dispersed, leaving the historian with a tantalisingly scant body of fragmentary records around which to build a convincing biography.
In Rembrandt's Eyes Simon Schama--the leading historical craftsman of our era, with a career-long commitment to Dutch history--succeeds with consummate skill in bringing the heroic painter of such masterpieces as The Night Watch and Portrait of Jan Six vividly to life again. Returning to the bustling Dutch world with which he first made his reputation in his bestselling The Embarrassment of Riches (1987), Schama recreates Rembrandt's life and times with all the verve and panache of a historical novelist, whilst never for an instant losing his scrupulous grip on recorded fact and detail. The telling surviving fragments of archival information about Rembrandt's personal and professional history are embedded skilfully in a richer and denser tapestry of the commercial whirl and political hurly-burly of the 17th-century Low Countries--a divided territory, split between the Catholic and Protestant faiths and the contested powers of the Spanish Habsburgs and the Dutch Republic--with the tentacles of the tale reaching into the most unexpected shadowy corners of European love and war, aspiration and intrigue.
Rembrandt's Eyes is, in fact, two biographies for the price of one. From the outset Schama contrasts the life of Rembrandt with that of his older, equally artistically talented, countryman Peter Paul Rubens, whose meteoric rise and sustained success as a society painter forms a revealing contrast with Rembrandt's unhappier relationship with fame and fortune. The comparison is a telling one. Where Rubens furnishes the wealthy and powerful with glorious reflections of and visual foils for their social and political aspirations and glory, Rembrandt can never resist testing the envelope of taste and stylistic acceptability. His challenge to his clients to rise to embrace the shock of his painterly experiments with technique, texture and composition, ultimately produced his downfall. The Amsterdam Town Council took down his The Oath-swearing of Claudius Civilis, rolled it up and returned his masterpiece to him, to be cut-down in an attempt to sell it to a suitable buyer.
This is a gorgeous book to own, too. Rembrandt's Eyes is printed on heavy, high-gloss paper, lavishly illustrated throughout in full colour, with double-page colour spreads of the most memorable of Rembrandt's works, which take one's breath away as one turns the page. But above all, this is narrative history at its very best, a page-turner and an adventure story, which will make the reader laugh and cry by turns, in the time-honoured tradition of masterly writing. --Lisa Jardine
Its skill at reconstructing the artist and his age suggests that we no longer need look only towards novelists and poets for "creative" writing. The music of history and biography can be equally powerful (Peter Ackroyd The Times)
A capacious, generous book full of new ideas and information about not only Rembrandt but also his life, his times and his contemporaries. With Schama you look at a picture and see it as you hadn't before (Doris Lessing Daily Telegraph Books of the Year)
With Rembrandt's Eyes, he has, as the cliché goes, found his subject - a perfect match for his talent and sympathies...moving and revealing...a Rembrandt very much for our time...[and] an extremely coherent, satisfying work (Alain de Botton Independent on Sunday)
[A] supreme contribution to art history (Anita Brookner Spectator Books of the Year)
A bravura performance...Schama is an outstanding historian...In this new book he brings to his perception of Rembrandt not only a profound knowledge of the seventeenth century, but also a greedy fascination with the material expression of culture in every nook and cranny of life...Schama deepens and enriches our familiarity with Rembrandt, and makes us understand more fully why he has often been called the greatest painter of all time (Frances Spalding Literary Review)
The Rembrandt riddle has now been tackled by that superbly gifted historian, Simon Schama...Schama speaks as an expert, but he wears his learning lightly; and few convey that learning more felicitously or fluently...this book holds the attention and fires the imagination...a portrait of the artist in the Baroque manner (Roy Porter Independent)
Sumptuous...Impassioned and learned, expansive and discursive, Rembrandt's Eyes not only leaves us with a fierce appreciation of the artist's work but also immerses us inexorably in his world (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love this book, as all books of Simon Schama this is a story told with passion and knowledge. Recommended for lovers of Dutch golden age art.Published 2 months ago by book_lover
The book itself was in good condition. But it had several librarian marks. This was a bit disappointing. Delivery was as expected. Good.Published 16 months ago by maurits van der molen
As an artist myself, I have read a great many books on the subject of Art and Art history . This book for many reasons ranks in the top three. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Milos Biberovic
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. Read morePublished 17 months ago by HistoryFan