Rembrandt’s Integrity by Garan Santicola from Catholic New York

A personal note by the content curator and the blogger Zahra:

” Rembrandt is part of the Blog today due to his interest towards the East/ South Asia. His fascination with the Mughal Painting, Emperor Shahjahan ( who ruled from 1628 to 58), and a body of work he produced inspired by the Mughal Court, Indo-Pak Subcontinent.”

Rembrandt – Self-Portrait, as a young man

Oct. 4 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. Although the Dutch draughtsman, painter and printmaker enjoyed great success during his lifetime, he died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk, one of Amsterdam’s first churches built for Protestant worship. Twenty years later, his remains were removed and destroyed, which was customary treatment for the poor of that time.

Today, Rembrandt is considered one of the greatest artists in history, and exhibitions honoring him have been taking place around the world throughout this 350th anniversary year. The Met’s “In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at the Met” brings together some of the most important works in their extensive holdings of 17th-century Dutch art, and 11 of their 20 Rembrandt paintings take center stage here.

His portraiture features prominently in this exhibit, most notably a 1660 self-portrait painted when he was 54 years old. The heavy buildup of paint, used to create the wrinkles of age that accent his face, represents a style characteristic of his later period, when his art started to lose popularity in the Netherlands. Though his devotion to realism led him to depict his own physical imperfections in this self-portrait, the piece also reveals a proud artist determined to explore his craft regardless of the consequences. His eyes look anxious and weary yet also knowing and somewhat defiant, and his stolid posture, clenched jaw and pursed lips seem to convey stubborn resolve. The flamboyance of his enormous cap easily identifies him as an artist, combined with his aged appearance and steadfast demeanor, which infer autonomy and mastery of his craft.

A few years before this 1660 self-portrait, Rembrandt had to sell many of his most valuable possessions as a collector of art and antiquities. His bankruptcy was a result of living beyond his means. Inventories of his possessions demonstrate lavish expenditures but also speak to his appreciation for the work of others and his interest in great ideas.

One of the treasures inventoried in his possessions was a bust of Homer, which served as a model for his “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer,” a painting featured in the Met’s Dutch Masters exhibit. It depicts the figure of Aristotle standing beside the bust, resting his hand on its marble head, and gazing into the middle distance, lost in contemplation. In his book “Rembrandt and Homer,” art historian Herbert von Einem interprets the subject matter of the painting to reflect Rembrandt’s deep religiosity, writing, “The ancient theme breathes a Christian spirit.”

Rembrandt’s Aristotle was done on commission for Sicilian nobleman Don Antonio Ruffo. Aside from two subsequent works of lesser importance produced for Ruffo, Rembrandt’s Aristotle was his only known commission from a foreign collector. He completed the work in 1653, around the time when his popularity was beginning to fade in the Netherlands.

Though Rembrandt never left the Dutch Republic, he gained exposure to Italian Masters in the art market and learned of their techniques from Dutch painters who had studied in Italy, especially the Utrecht Caravaggisti. Conflicts of religion raged throughout Rembrandt’s life, and, like many during that time, he had both Catholic and Protestant influences. His art comfortably hovered between these two worlds, and he drew particular inspiration from Flemish Baroque Catholic painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Considering his wide array of influences, Rembrandt would have felt confident taking on the commission from Ruffo, who collected works of great masters regardless of nationality but who remained strongly influenced by the Italian artistic tradition. Rembrandt chose the subject matter, and the topic he settled on was likely intended to appeal to Ruffo’s Mediterranean background, given that themes of antiquity were popular in Italy throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

In his book “Rembrandt’s Aristotle and Other Rembrandt Studies,” art historian Julius S. Held contends that the painting represents a complex juxtaposition of ideals. A large gold chain hangs across Aristotle’s body from right shoulder to left hip, with a medal that dangles from the right side of the chain and displays the image of Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s most famous pupil. The implication is that Alexander gave the gold chain to Aristotle, and, in that sense, the chain represents a great honor bestowed upon him. However, the chain also represents a kind of servitude because, by wearing it, Aristotle acknowledges that his status in life depends upon remaining in the good graces of this powerful ruler.

Aristotle, in fact, did not remain in the good graces of Alexander—they became estranged when Alexander executed a relative of Aristotle’s for conspiring against him. Held asserts that this history may have influenced Rembrandt’s melancholy depiction of Aristotle, who would certainly be ambivalent about having his status in life hinge on the whims of a vengeful ruler.

Homer represents an ideal for both Alexander and Aristotle. For Alexander, who carried a copy of the “Iliad” with him wherever he went, it was the ideal of honor personified by the heroes of Homer’s stories. For Aristotle, it was an aesthetic ideal summed up in his “Poetics,” wherein Homer’s work stands as the measure for artistic achievement. Amid this dynamic, we can imagine the figure of Aristotle measuring the transient honors bestowed by Alexander against the timeless achievements of Homer.

Held relates this meditation to the life of Rembrandt, showing how he faced the same dilemma as Aristotle. Held writes of Rembrandt, “The greatness of his art, in the last analysis, is due to this fact: that it is the work of a man who never compromised, who never permitted himself to be burdened with a chain of honor, and fiercely maintained both the integrity of his art and his freedom as a man.”

This path of integrity contributed to Rembrandt’s hardships in the later part of his career. But that is also a period when he produced some of his most brilliant works, including the two mentioned here, which tell stories that lay bare complex human situations and reveal the soul of a man willing to suffer to create art that is true and stands the test of time.

More: https://www.cny.org/stories/rembrandts-integrity,19805

The Mystery of Alif – a painting based on Sufi text

 

Read only Alif, it will liberate you
The Alif multiplied and became two. three and four
It multiplied again and became a thousand, a million, a billion.
Then it multiplied itself into an infinite number,
This mystery of Alif is wonderous!

Why do you read bundles of book?
Your head is loaded with sin;
Now you look like a handman,
And the path ahead is hard and arduous!

You become Hafiz and learn the Qur’an by heart,
You purge your tongue by reading its text,
But you fix your attention on the luxury of the world,
You mind wanders like a mad madman.

O Bullah, the seed of the banyan tree was sown,
The tree grew big,
When it died,
The same Single Seed was left over again.

Here is description:The title comes from the poem/Kaafi of Baba Bulleh Shah. Fundamentally, the poem is about the Unity og Knowledge. Here is Bulleh Shah is the first person narrator in the poem and is first of all addressing a general audiance and, in the last verse addresses himself,”O Bullah”The poet himself communicates the symbolism of the Alif so simply and yet with such faih that it inspired me to depict the subject in painting form.In this poem the Alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet (corresponding to ‘A’) and it is the letter that begins the word ‘Allah’; here the Alif corresonds to Allah Himself and is the symbol of Unity. The subject of the poem is the Unity and Diversity of God – God is One and his gnosis and knowledge are One – all branches of knowledge flow from one and the same knowledge and all return t the One.The theme is that people who read and collect books, and those who memoris the Qur’an, those in fact who consider thmselves learned, are not actually the ones closest to God. Rather, it is the man who knows God in his hert, that is, who knows Alif, who i the one with a pure and sincere heart who stands upright before his Lord. On reading the poem, ven in English, it is the most beautiful language that says so much in such few and simple words. Besides decrying books and too much learning, the poet also criticises the hypocrisy of one who learns the QUR’AN and then goes an focuses his “attention on luxury of the world.” In fact, in the last vers the addresses himself, “O Bullah,” as if the whole poem were a reminder to himself of the Truth and a reminder of what he and all of us should centre our lives around. True knowlede, in fact, liberates the soul from the distractions of the world – it prevents our minds from wandering “like a madman.” And theremembernce of Allah, of the Mystery of Alif, is truly wonderous and always brings us back to the True Centre. In the last verse, the author mentions the seed of the banyan tree; the banyan tree is a very important and symbolic tree in the Indo-Pak Hindu and Muslim mystical tradition as well as in the Buddhist tradition. Not only did the Buddha sit under the banyan tree untill he attained enlightenment, but also mystics from Hindu and Muslim tradition sat under the banyan tree; and the Single Seed from which the tree grows represents Unity to which all things, all multiplicity eventually returns.