"Save Rembrandt from the Experts"
Nigel Konstam Exposes the Errors of Modern Rembrandt Scholarship

History of the Discovery

I am a sculptor and when I was at art school I came to revere Rembrandt as the one old-master who seemed to speak to me (and many of my peers) directly. His drawings struck me as the greatest sculptural drawings ever made. I studied them and tried to analyse what it was that allowed him to make such utterly comprehensible statements about the human condition.

His figures were not just full of life and movement but often he seemed to penetrate the inmost thoughts of his characters. With a few lines he was able to sum up what he saw; from the quality of the clothes his characters wore to the spirit which motivated their actions. He conveyed it all.

I based my own endeavours on what I understood of Rembrandt. Since then my understanding has deepened very considerably, mainly as a result of a request I was asked to give a talk on Rembrandt to students at the art school where I taught. I bought the two volume Dover paperback edition of Rembrandt's drawings to research what others thought of him.

I was delighted by the drawings I found there but astonished by what I read about them. The scholars were dismissing drawings saying they were not Rembrandts.

I had never seen these drawings before but some struck me as masterpieces (see the David drawing). I tried to find out what had caused this discrepancy.

The drawings in the Dover edition had all been accepted as Rembrandt's in 1904 but more recent scholarship had found reason to dismiss many of them. One of the first questions that I asked myself was did Rembrandt draw his biblical and mythological subjects from life? I answered that question with a resounding YES. I realized subsequently, that the scholars believed the opposite: that the drawings were Rembrandt's inventions, drawn from imagination. This difference of view proved to be crucial to the interpretation of his works.

To prove the presence of a group of live models I made a sculptural replica of the group of models around the bed in the David drawing. I believed that I would be able to walk round the bed and see the subject of other Rembrandt drawings. What I actually saw was the reverse of the subject. I returned to the position from which I had constructed the maquette (Rembrandt's viewpoint) and inserted a mirror, immediately I saw the subject matter of another Rembrandt drawing 'Isaac Blessing Jacob' in precise detail, in the mirror.

See short film clip -[!! Be advised this clip is 5MB and will take about an hour to download on a dial-up connection and about 10 minutes on Broadband. - A more compressed version should be available soon.]

There was an extraneous figure in the David drawing (Solomon's acolyte) which Rembrandt had started to draw in and then converted into a jug on a bedside table. I was enthralled. I made several such groups (The Dismissal of Hagar is illustrated in Mirrors). I can cite nearly one hundred examples of Rembrandt's use of mirrors in this way. I had stumbled upon Rembrandt's desire to maximize the possibilities of a single group of models.

At the time I thought 'the scholars are not going to like this but they will be obliged to bow to the weight of factual evidence that I had accumulated'. I was right about the first; the resistance was solid but wrong about the second. Thirty-one years later it would be true to say that scholars have continued as before, dismissing hundreds of paintings and drawings that are Rembrandts.

I love Rembrandt because his messages are conveyed in the everyday language of the body. Body-language can be read without special training by people of all cultures. It would be true to say that Rembrandt was the first and greatest artist to tap this universal way of conveying feeling. He discovered body-language and used its full potential. I love him for his simple directness. He uses marks that anyone can make, nothing over clever. He shows us what is essential and meaningful in life.

I love his acceptance of failure as a valid outcome of a period of work. I love the roughness of his execution, his refusal to dazzle with virtuoso craftsmanship or to hide his clumsinesses. He dazzles us with his all-encompassing vision. He imagined the scenes of the Bible and recreated them in Holland with the common folk as his models. All is as true to his vision and straight forward as could be. He believed that art and life were intimately connected. Rembrandt's attitudes have influenced many generations of artists. VanGogh worshipped Rembrandt. Rembrandt is our signpost, our light, our supreme example. We need to save him to save our culture. He is our great teacher.

 

  • 23:00 - 09.04.2007

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    The recent 2 x 60min Channel 4 documentary (shown July 21st, 28th 2007)
    (made by Lion Television) including Nigel Konstam's contribution to our understanding of the art of ancient Greece (the revolutionary demonstration of why we can be certain that Phidias and his workshop used body casts as the basis of there life-size, sculptural compositions) in Part II.


    You can see the whole story in my book;- SCULPTURE, the Art and the Practice, 2nd edition ISBN 0 – 9523568 or, less completely, on the website www.verrocchio.co.uk

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  • 09:53 - 12.10.2007

    Click here to watch 5 minute video on the Adoration

    National Gallery Rejects The Adoration

     National Gallery Rejects The Adoration - see video on its web site

    There are two versions of The Adoration of the Shepherds, one in Munich and the second in the National Gallery (London). Both were once attributed to Rembrandt: The Munich version is still a Rembrandt. The London version has been de-attributed by the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) in spite of the fact that the National Gallery experts examination of the materials confirmed that the painting was from Rembrandt's studio. The object of this demonstration is to prove that the London painting is truly a Rembrandt though the RRP insists that this version cannot possibly be by him.

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    On the right of the photograph you see a maquette made from the figures and architecture in the Munich painting, that Rembrandt observed and painted direct from life. A cow and a basket also form a part of the composition.

    The reflected part of the photograph you see in the mirror (on the left) matches up with the subject matter of the London painting to such a degree that we cannot doubt that Rembrandt (or whoever else was painting from Rembrandt's precise position) painted what he saw in the mirror. As the use of a mirror can be demonstrated many times in Rembrandt's accepted drawings it is most rational to assume that Rembrandt stayed in the same position and painted both paintings; probably concurrently, with the same palette and brushes.

    It is amusing to note that while the humans are static, only the cow moved: the hats of the figures remain the same, the basket on the post is seen in elevation in the Munich version and in plan in the London version, the lantern is still carried by the man with the broad brimmed hat, lots of tiny details are transmuted but most of all the infinitely complex space relationship between the figures remains constant.

    By understanding the extreme complexity of the task of constructing the London subject from the Munich painting, we can be certain that a mirror was used.(This is no simple print image. It is a reversal of a new point of view of the same very complex, three dimensional group we see in the Munich painting.) From this understanding we not only regain a lost Rembrandt, we demonstrate that the impressionistic style of the London painting is also Rembrandt's. Thus widening the stylistic spectrum that has been imposed arbitarily by the RRP.

    Furthermore it is proved that Rembrandt worked from a theatrical-type production. I believe he set up live models dressed with costumes (mentioned in his inventory of 1656) in the adoration paintings, I believe the scene was staged in a barn. These tableaux-vivants, the very life's blood of Rembrandt's work as artist and teacher, are implicitly denied by the RRP and their followers, who are keepers of Rembrandt drawings in the museums: a fundamental error, which invalidates many of the experts' judgements over the last 100 years.

     

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    Two legitimate questions may arise from this demonstration 1. did mirrors of this size exist in Rembrandt's time? Answer � not made from one sheet of glass � this large mirror was probably made of polished metal. And 2. Why should he work from an inadequate reflection of his models when he had a group to observe direct from life? Answer � Rembrandt was not alone in the barn. There are student versions of this same scene, both drawn and painted, that show that students were working side by side with the master, each with their own individual viewpoint. This would have inhibited Rembrandt's freedom to move himself or change the group of models. Alternatively, it may just be Rembrandt's explorative spirit that drove him to this single experiment, which he never repeated in painting, but many times while drawing.

     

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    If you have doubts please look at the rest of this website before submitting your questions.

    It is my belief that the other end of the spectrum of style in Rembrandt's paintings should also be redefined by testing a painting in The Wallace Collection: The Uncharitable Servant. This painting was once the most highly valued Rembrandt in the world. It has been described as Rembrandt at the extreme limits of his ability, it is not typical of Rembrandt but Rembrandt is a most varied artist and we need to define the outer limits of his variability as precisely as possible. If The Uncharitable Servant, was put through autoradiographic tests this would show us the way the painting had been built up right from the original drawing on canvas, thus establishing a clear attribution. The result of this could be to re-inflate Rembrandt's oeuvres and reputation back to where they both stood 50 years ago. If the London painting turns out not to be a Rembrandt the case for widening the spectrum towards a loose impressionistic style remains imperative.

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  • 10:57 - 04.07.2008

    See Nigel's YouTube Contribution to the campaign to unseat Sir Nicholas from his 21 Year reign at the Tate Gallery London. Sir Nicholas Serota Considers a New Aquisition for the Tate Gallery

    Take this link

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  • 10:29 - 24.11.2008

    Take link to see video
    Recent video (Takes only 2 minutes to watch) by Nigel Konstam

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  • 08:14 - 16.02.2010

    Nigel's new YouTube Video comments on the Getty Exhibition of 2010 Rembrandt and Bol

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