The Stone Operation, ca. 1624–25, Rembrandt van Rijn (detail)
Spotlight Loan: Rembrandt
Dec 01, 2012 – Dec 01, 2013European Baroque Art Gallery
It is always fascinating to chart the course of a great artist from the beginning—but when the artist in question is Rembrandt, that academic exercise can also be quite thrilling. This is certainly the case with two of Rembrandt’s earliest surviving paintings. They are on view in VMFA’s European Baroque Art Gallery beginning this December and through the next year, thanks to the generous loan from a private collection and funding from the Collector’s Circle.
The Three Musicians (“Hearing”) and The Stone Operation (“Touch”) are from a series representing the five senses that Rembrandt most likely executed in 1624 or 1625, during his early years as a student and apprentice in Leiden. Another surviving painting from this series, The Spectacle Seller (“Sight”), is in a private European collection, while the other two representing “Smell” and “Taste” are lost.
Allegories of the five senses began to be widely popular in Europe during the 16th century, when abstract concepts were represented in human guise. In the 17th century, Caravaggio and his followers, many of them Dutch, took a more down-to-earth approach, often conceived of in broadly comic terms. The young Rembrandt was clearly inspired by this more realistic trend, and while his two panels are small, they forcefully—and caustically—represent these allegories in more familiar terms.
Clearly the work of a brash young artist, these paintings anticipate Rembrandt’s later concern with light and shadow as well as with physiognomy as a means of expressing character—here almost verging on caricature. Beautifully colored and painted with broad brushstrokes and heavy impasto, these works remind us that, like Shakespeare, Rembrandt excelled in comedy as well as tragedy.
The Stone operation, ca. 1624–25, Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), oil on panel, 8½ x 7 in. Private Collection, New York
Rembrandt used this not very subtle image to express the abstract idea of “Touch.”
The Three musicians, ca. 1624–25, Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669), voil on panel, 8½ x 7 in. Private Collection, New York
In this allegory representing “Hearing,” Rembrandt used comical characters to imply that the sound of the group’s singing was not necessarily harmonious.