Rembrandt and Higher Criticism

This weekend I have attempted to lavish Mary Beth with my time.  Last night we met at Remington Grill before going to watch “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” at the $1.50 theater, which is now the $2 theater…just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This morning we went to see the “Rembrandt in America” exhibit.  This excursion was entirely planned by me without her knowledge.  It was an attempt to make up for my negligence last year (I promised to take her to see Picasso last year but allowed my studies to overtake me and the days simply slipped by).

We were both taken a back by his mastery of lighting and his ability to paint in such a way that conveys intimacy.  When standing in front of some of these paintings, the viewer felt as if he knew the subject.  We were also fascinated that a great deal of controversy surrounds the authentication of a Rembrandt painting.  The formation of the Rembrandt Research Project in 1968 led to the de-authentication of at least 200 “Rembrandts” among a oeuvre of over 400 paintings.  That is to say that over half of the paintings thought to be painted by Rembrandt were not painted by his hand.

This number can be explained in part by two common practices at the time.  First, teachers had the right to sign their students art as their own and sell the painting.  This practice is paralleled in modern scholarship when a) a student does all the research for his major professor and receives little to no credit for his labors and b) when an individual new in the scholarly world writes almost all of a “collaborative” work.  Second, it was common for Rembrandt to work on a collaborative painting with one of his students.  This leads to confusion in analyzing the final product, which possesses Rembrandt’s techniques at points but diverges at other points.

Despite these explanations, we still came away with the impression that determining whether a work was of Rembrandt of one within his guild was a rather subjective task.  Many of the times it simply came down to “it isn’t good enough” or “this painting does not express the typical genius of a Rembrandt.”

Now to the point: It simply amazed me that the Rembrandt historians are so unsure as to whether a painting came from his hand or that of another, while biblical scholars are rather adamant that 1 & 2 Timothy, Hebrews, and Ephesians did not come from the hand of the Apostle Paul.  Rembrandt scholars have a corpus of 200 authentic works to establish a base line.  The Pauline corpus is ~6% of that size.  I know that the comparison breaks down.  We are dealing with two different forms of media, different means of analysis and authentication, different circumstances, and the fact that painters that might own a possible “fake” have a monetary interest in the piece.  Nevertheless, it makes one wonder about the reliability of internal evidence (style, word choice, literary devices, etc), especially when external evidence is shunned outright (testimony of the early church).

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One Response to Rembrandt and Higher Criticism

  1. Mary Beth says:

    This wife is quite lavished upon. Thank you.

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