Despite their relative proximity, the paths of 17th-century Masters (Dutch) Rembrandt and (Spanish) Velázquez never crossed during their lifetimes. In fact, they probably had no idea each other existed. Both were masters of capturing light and dark in their work and interestingly they both used an almost identical palette of colours. You can only imagine the results if either had painted each other.
The nearest we can get to this proposition is a new exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Entitled ‘Rembrant – Velázquez: Dutch & Spanish Masters’ it brings together the work of both artists alongside other pieces by greats including Murillo, Hals, Zurbarán and Vermeer.
Its timing marks the 200 year birthday of the exhibition’s partner, the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, together with the 350 year anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. 2019 is also the ‘Year of Rembrandt’.
The 17th Century was such a period of artistic creativity it has become known both in Spain and the Netherlands as the ‘Golden Age’ of painting. While the two art movements operated mostly independently of each other their subject matters often shared many common themes.
The exhibition’s curator Gregor J M Weber explained at the launch how these themes were considered when positioning the paintings in the gallery, with a Spanish painting placed next to a Dutch painting in order to highlight the similarities, if not in always in composition, but in terms of context.
A great example of this is Francisco de Zurbarán’s ‘Mystic Lamb’ (shown above right in the set of three) and Pieter Jansz Saenredam’s ‘Interior of the Sint-Odulphuskerk in Assendelft’ (above), both paintings express deep religious sentiments, the difference being Saenredam’s work comes from a Protestant perspective while Mystic Lamb’s symbolism is unmistakably Catholic.
Nothing compares to seeing these paintings up close and the exhibition is free for all Rijksmuseum ticket holders. Other paintings that caught my eye especially include Jan Asselijn’s ‘Threatened Swan’, Rembrandt’s ‘Titus in a Monk’s Habit’ and considering exterior scenes weren’t his speciality, Vermeer’s ‘The Little Street’ is something of a gem too. Another incredible painting in the exhibition that can only be fully appreciated in the flesh is ‘Isaac and Rebecca’, AKA as ‘The Jewish Bride’ (below), that according to Rembrandt biographer Christopher White is “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.”
Now is an exciting time to visit the museum as probably its most famous painting Rembrandts ‘Incidentally Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq’, also known as ‘The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch’, AKA ‘The Night Watch‘ is undergoing the most advanced scanning and digital image processing in preparation for extensive renovation.
What’s exciting is that ‘Operation Night Watch’ is happening in full view of visitors within a specially constructed glass case in the gallery. The information gained from the process will enable researchers to understand more about what is undoubtedly one of the most important paintings in the world.
Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam
While in the Netherlands I was lucky enough to visit two more exhibitions ‘Nicolaes Maes – Rembrandt’s Versatile Pupil’ at the Mauritshuis gallery in the Hague (also home to Vermeer’s ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’) and ‘Under the Shadow of Varmeer – Pieter De Hooch in Delft’ at the Museum Prinsenhof Delft – Look out for more information on these on FTF this week.
Factbox Info – Fly to Amsterdam from 7 UK airports with KLM, for more info visit www.klm.com