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6.3.06

Rembrandt and Caravaggio

Other Reviews:

Linda Sandler, Amsterdam Celebrates Rembrandt Birthday, Aims to Lure Tourists (Bloomberg News, March 5)

Andrew O'Hagan, Same theme, different light (The Telegraph, March 4)

Michiel Haijtink, Rembrandt-Caravaggio, a top-level art contest (Radio Netherlands, March 3)

Gérard Dupuy, Baroques à la colle (Libération, March 2)

Martin Gayford, Rembrandt, Caravaggio Dazzle, Fail to Bond in Amsterdam Show (Bloomberg News, February 24)

Guy Duplat, Le choc des génies (La Libre Belgique, February 24)

In pictures: Rembrandt-Caravaggio (BBC News, February 24)
This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt's birth, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has marked the event with an incredible blockbuster show, pairing the works of Rembrandt with those of another Baroque master, Caravaggio. (This was the idea of the director of another major museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, which is also hosting several Rembrandt exhibits this year. The television commercial that the museum made for the 400th anniversary, in which the characters of The Night Watch come to life to sing "Happy Birthday," is quite funny.) Harry Bellet wrote a review (Rembrandt-Caravage, sacré duel, February 28) for Le Monde (my translation):
Based on an idea from Ronald de Leeuw, the director of the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has organized the first confrontation between two of painting's monstres sacrés, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. They are artists separated by everything, starting with age. They are not contemporaries, or are just barely: when Caravaggio died, in 1610, Rembrandt was four. They lived at opposite ends of the spectrum, the former in Catholic Italy during the Counter-Reformation, and the latter in Calvinist Holland. Caravaggio's clients were princes of the Church; Rembrandt's shop was patronized by the middle-class citizenry of Amsterdam. One wandered about the Mediterranean, courting patrons or escaping from the authorities; the other, who married well, lived in opulence up to the death of his wife, which left him without income and crippled with debts. The Italian led a violent life, punctuated with tavern brawls and culminating in a murder, on May 28, 1606, a month and a half before Rembrandt's birth; the Dutch artist's only known crime was, as a new widower, having impregnated his maid.

Everything about them is in opposition, except painting. This exhibit, laid out by the Frenchman Jean-Michel Wilmotte, shows that by bringing together 38 paintings, 15 by Caravaggio and 20 by Rembrandt. The canvases come from Dublin, London, Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Rome, Naples, St. Petersburg, and Melbourne. Anyone who wants to see them after the exhibit closes, on June 18, will have to travel. [...]

The two painters were both masters of the "expressive face," as it was called in the studios, that particular talent of showing, through the agency of facial traits, the movement of emotions. It is fun to compare, as proposed in this exhibit, two examples of female perfidy: the look, both delighted and vaguely horrified, of Dalilah fleeing with the freshly cut hair of Samson, and the look, frankly disgusted but resolved, of Judith cutting off the head of Holofernes. The latter, by Caravaggio, shows Judith with clearly erect nipples: the exhibit comments perceive in that an eroticism much more present in the Italian's work than in the Dutchman's.
You can see many of the images in the exhibit, often in these comparative pairs, at the museum's Web site.

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