Rembrandt 400

Article by Andrew Davey | 14 Aug 2006

A small dimly lit room downstairs and twenty-eight glorious etchings. 'Rembrandt four hundred: Masterprints from the National Gallery of Scotland' is utterly engrossing.

One knows so well Rembrandt's major paintings, the portraits and baroque dramas, so these modest and less familiar works are a revelation, mostly small in scale, but always a vision that is vast.

Each work, biblical or mythical, portrait, landscape or scene from everyday life, is imbued with a consistent sense of humility and wisdom. Tenderness and sympathy for the human condition is ever present and made visible through intimate observation and realistic detail, which bring us to shared experience. A unique and unexpected positioning of viewpoint and aspect revitalises for a modern eye these well-worn themes. Antiope sleeps soundly with her mouth open. A dog defecates in the foregropound unseen by the Good Samaritan. Whilst Jesus is being lowered from the cross we see his foot still attached by a nail.

We respond willingly to process and innovation wanting to know about technique and method. These prints enlighten us wonderfully for we see some more 'finished' than others and we are made aware of the various print states. Detail has been added or removed and the drama refocused by intensifying light or shadow.

The drawing, the vigour and force of the marks and free manner of the rendering is breathtaking. In two of the prints our attention is drawn directly to the business of making art. In 'Artist drawing from a model' (did Picasso know this print?) we see an artist busy at work described by a quick sketchy and restless line, and in comparison the model, static and draped in silhouette. In another a child learns how to walk and we are told that the walking frame was a common metaphor for learning and practice. The young artist in his studio will only master his art through perseverance and constant practice.

These works are timeless and restorative and reaffirm precious values.

National Gallery of Scotland, 3 June - 27 August, Admission: Free