Rembrandt and the Female Nude (Amsterdam Studies in the Dutch Golden Age)
Eric Jan Sluijter
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Rembrandt’s extraordinary paintings of female nudes—Andromeda, Susanna, Diana and her Nymphs, Danaë, Bathsheba—as well as his etchings of nude women, have fascinated many generations of art lovers and art historians. But they also elicited vehement criticism when first shown, described as against-the-grain, anticlassical—even ugly and unpleasant. However, Rembrandt chose conventional subjects, kept close to time-honored pictorial schemes, and was well aware of the high prestige accorded to the depiction of the naked female body. Why, then, do these works deviate so radically from the depictions of nude women by other artists? To answer this question Eric Jan Sluijter, in Rembrandt and the Female Nude, examines Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings against the background of established pictorial traditions in the Netherlands and Italy. Exploring Rembrandt’s intense dialogue with the works of predecessors and peers, Sluijter demonstrates that, more than any other artist, Rembrandt set out to incite the greatest possible empathy in the viewer, an approach that had far-reaching consequences for the moral and erotic implications of the subjects Rembrandt chose to depict.
In this richly illustrated study, Sluijter presents an innovative approach to Rembrandt’s views on the art of painting, his attitude towards antiquity and Italian art of the Renaissance, his sustained rivalry with the works of other artists, his handling of the moral and erotic issues inherent in subjects with female nudes, and the nature of his artistic choices.
is depicted with a rather thick paint layer that shows careful, but clearly visible brushstrokes, which follow the shapes of her belly, ribcage and breasts and convincingly suggest a soft, almost ivory-white, skin.65 Only her nipples are scrupulously highlighted with a pale pink. The flesh of her skin seems all the more palpable because of its juxtaposition with the texture of the white cloth covering her legs and the rugged stone of the rock behind her. By turning Andromeda into a frightened
theory of rhetoric, such ideas would have been general knowledge in the studios of history painters like Rembrandt’s master, Pieter Lastman. Van Mander called the portrayal of the emotions the kernel and soul of painting.2 They could be depicted because ‘the affects and passions which move the heart and ᭣ 41 Detail of Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, Wide-Eyed ᭤ the senses from within, make the external limbs react, and show demonstrable signs through an observable movement in bearing, as in their
answers, naturally, in the affirmative.46 The sight of such a virtuous and chaste woman would even entice us to trespass the laws by which the Elders were severely punished.47 The viewer is the victim of Susanna’s beauty, he maintains, and it is the painter who is to blame for the damage caused to the soul, because his brush was fired by the sunny rays flowing from the eyes which, in real life, aroused his love.48 This ‘accusation’ is clearly meant as a playful compliment on the painter’s ability
therefore seen mainly as an example of the corrupting power of gold, which nothing – not even feminine honor and virtue – could withstand. This made it a suitable subject for a painting hanging in the house of a courtesan, which is where the young man in Terence’s play had seen it. Martial had also been prompted by a painting of Danaë to make a humorous reference to mercenary love: ‘Why of you, Ruler of Olympus, did Danaë receive her price, if 185 Master LD (Léon Davant) after a fresco by
Dawn, 1524-26, Florence, S. Lorenzo, Capella Medici viii • Danaë 229 AUP SLUIJTER.REMBRANDT 24x26,5 v20 27-08-2006 17:05 Pagina 230 Danaë, made for Philip ii.52 She is also to be seen in the above-mentioned print by Hieronymus Wierix and in the engraving by Frans Menton after Frans Floris (fig. 193), which Goltzius probably also knew.53 The insertion of this old woman as a pictorial contrast emphasizes the beauty and youth of Danaë and also serves to visualize the transience of all