Art Lectures 1 and 2 – About RISD and Rembrandt

Loerber Hall, LIU’s Hutton House

ART LECTURE 1: RISD Museum 

On Monday, June 19, a friend and I attended an a fascinating lecture in its breath and depth by LIU Adjunct professor Marc Kopman. The lecture is part of a series in the Hutton House program, entitled, “Art with a College Degree”.  I missed the first one about the Yale Art Gallery/Fogg Art Museum due to my partner’s post surgery situation, and I don’t have to worry about missing out, because  the policy is great. If you miss a session you can make it up the next time it is offered. The sessions are cyclical, so you can make it up sooner vs. later.

Marc Kopman

This particular lecture was about the massive collection of original art, used initially as instructive tools for art students at the Rhode Island School of Design. (RISD). Next to Brown University, RISD’s museum was founded by a group of women in order to help students of decorative arts learn with reproductions of great works of art (paintings and sculptures).  Eventually the collection included not only reproductions but original works, by some of the greatest classical, neoclassical, romanticist, impressionists and post impressionist painters and sculptures of all time, and when the original great masters’ works weren’t affordable at auction, some of their students masterful works were obtained instead. There are Manets and one early Van Gogh, and Reniors, and more.  Many of the sculptures of antiquity used for drawing and learning about anatomy were damaged, and yet suited the purpose of the initial collection.  The treasures of the RISD (pronounced RIZZDEE) are certainly enticing enough to venture there during the summer….I’m looking forward to the next lecture, about Princeton University’s collection.

ART LECTURE 2:  REMBRANDT 

Next, on Wednesday, June 21, I attended SUNY Farmingdale’s Thomas Germano lecture at the Manhasset Public Library (although he previously presented at the Peninsula Public Library, which I could not attend, and it was the same) about Rembrandt’s Abraham and the Angels. The best response to this brilliant lecture is WOW!

Professor Germano glides through the life and times of Rembrandt with such ease and speed, illuminating and uncovering every crevice of interest;he included every relevant piece of artwork believed to have influenced the master. The concentration on the theme of Abraham and his son Isaac, wife Sarah, (and outcast mistress servant Hagar and first born Ishmael), and the three angels.  Religious themes from the Old and New Testament were a major part of his portfolio.  Drawings in pen and ink so quick and stunningly from a skilled genius (in my opinion appeared to be  more like the impressionists than the finished studies) in etchings completed on copper plates and printed by the accomplished draftsman/printer and painter. I didn’t know the relationship between Rembrandt’s miller father and himself was significant. That they had a good relationship and that Rembrandt’s own relationship with his son Titus was close. These relationships, according to Professor Germano,motivated  Rembrandt to focus on the theme of father and son again and again though the use of the story from Genesis, of the angels appearing as three strangers coming to tell give him a message in exchange for his and wife Sarah’s hospitality.

The message was that as Abraham was 90 (although really would have been much younger with different calendar used – my input), he would have a son. He already had Ishmael with Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar, but he became the son the Islamic faith considers as their ancestor, not the Judeo-Christian perspective. Abraham the father of all three major religions was a generous and noble man. He loved his sons, and Hagar was sent away once this message of Sarah’s late pregnancy was given.  The imagery of the three angels was worked through drawings, prints and paintings, as were scenes of Jesus being taken down from the cross. And in these images Rembrandt put his own portrait in the faces of individual characters. He included his face in his artwork more than most artists, and Thomas Germano has such a understated humor that he    triggers smiles with remarks, like  “Rembrandt put himself in more paintings than Alfred Hitchcock made appearances in his own movies.”

A Rembrandt van Rijn self-portrait
A later self-portrait of the artist

He showed examples of where  Rembrandt’s own countenance appeared in various renderings, including one with his wife soon after marriage, where she the daughter of a wealthy Amsterdam family (which enabled him to pursue his art) was portrayed as a prostitute in a local bar scene and he is portrayed as the Prodigal son involved wasteful pleasure.This was  another religious (parable) theme, the Return of the Prodigal Son who was loved by his father unconditionally, while the other son who is the good one, watches, in a painting he referenced. The theme is timeless. (It reminds me of my parents, and their other two children, who caused them so much heartache and demanded and squandered so much from them; I the one who asked for nothing and took nothing,  witnessed, like the good son in the painting, as they were repeatedly forgiven, with unconditional love.)

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son

Powerful narratives were told through symbolism and fantastic execution of the imagery and the use of light that Rembrandt learned from seeing Caravaggio’s work likely in drawings, as he did not travel in his to other parts of Europe, unlike his teacher. (There was so much to this lecture that I have no right to give it away.) It was the exceptional diligence of Professor Germano that illuminated Rembrandt’s life and times and a sense of his motives and personality.  Rembrandt van Rijn was an ecentric, according to Germano. He explained that he  would buy many  costumes at the bustling market in Amsterdam, to use as props and models’ costumes for paintings. They were anachronistic. Inaccurate images of the dress of the orient in terms of the actual biblical wear, was not something that stopped him. He purchased imported  Turkish garb, jewelry and turbans, (without much regard for cost), and he’d walk around Amsterdam in such costumes. He seemed  unconcerned with what others may think or say. (Reminds me of the Leroy Nieman and Salvador Dali and their flamboyance and standout  handlebar mustaches. And Lady Gaga in her bizarre, exotic costumes and headdresses. Eccentricity, and exhibitionism of  big egos in artistic types re-occurs throughout time.)  Rembrandt  did have a sense of humor and bitterness towards critics, as evidenced in a quick satirical drawing. In the drawing, he showed an art critic to be a fool, who knew nothing about true art.  That is a sentiment echoed often today, even in my blog.It was particularly poignant, because just before the lecture I examined   an art show with ribbons gracing the dullest, most old fashioned pieces (“dead classical” as I refer to them),  artwork, while the truly exciting imaginative, more original, skillful and provocative pieces, received no recognition, (except they were in the show). I was alarmed that a powerfully expressive portrait hung in a corner of the room with no recognition. Barbara Silbert, a master portrait artist should have received recognition for her excellent portrait and some of the other works, overshadowed by more mundane works that I wouldn’t hang in my home. Why?  The critic must have had old fashioned taste. Maybe he/she didn’t like to be excited or didn’t understand anything beyond the classical?  Dull and simple sometimes win over complex and powerful and original.

Rembrandt was a rarity. He did learn from others and was influenced by them, and he influenced his students who followed in his style, but he was right up there with Titian and Reubens and the greats of the Baroque period of art. More than 20 of his works were on the biblical theme of Abraham and the Angels.  That is a significant portion of works devoted to the one story.  Much more was said and shown.  It was another comprehensive focused tour through time. And it was free and open to the public. I didn’t see an empty chair, nor hear people talking during the lecture. People were riveted in their seats. Applause followed the lecture. Several women rushed to the podium. He’s a rock star of art history!     The topic“Divine Encounter: Abraham and the Angels”  is hot now because The Frick  Collection at 1 East 70th Street in Manhattan, NY is showing his work through August 20.  SaveSave SaveSave

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