Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Rembrandt's artful use of statues and casts: New insights into his studio practices and working methods
by Gyllenhaal, Martha, Ph.D., Temple University, 2008, 306; 3307978
Abstract (Summary)

Although Rembrandt van Rijn owned over eighty pieces of sculpture, studies regarding his use of the collection are in short supply and tend to be either formal, tracing the few images of sculpture in Rembrandt's oeuvre to those listed in his 1656 bankruptcy inventory, or else they refer to his use of classical sculpture in general terms as an inspiration for his history paintings.

This study shifts emphasis from formal and iconographic issues to Rembrandt's studio practices and working methods. It examines his manipulation of the border between reality and illusion (what Ovid termed "the art that conceals art"): his effort to "incarnate" his sculptural sources by wrapping them in textiles and giving them the appearance of flesh.

Seventeenth-century theory provides the foundation for this hypothesis: artists/theorists such as Karl van Mander, Peter Paul Rubens, and Philips Angel promoted the judicious use of sculpture and encouraged artists to transform its marmoreal surface into pliant flesh; Van Mander advised painters to make the thin garments of classical statues more appropriate for Northern paintings by wrapping them in woolen cloth; he also encouraged artists to "steal arms, legs, hands, and feet" from works of art and synthesize them into new creations.

Esteemed precedents also support the hypothesis: recent studies of Cornelis Cornelius van Haarlem, Hendrick Goltzius, and Bartholomeus Spranger examined their use of Renaissance bronzes, an inexpensive and plentiful source that Rembrandt also seems to have tapped. Paragone, a popular debate in both Amsterdam and Leiden, is another facet of this study.

Empirical observations reveal patterns in Rembrandt's use of sculpture: several etchings of his studio show busts adorned with hats or wrapped in fabric (a practice also described in a seventeenth-century poem about Rembrandt); a number of his head studies, genre, and history paintings suggest that he used busts of Roman emperors for models. The less subtle artistry of his students and his colleague Jan Lievens also exposes their use of clothed statues and thereby corroborates the hypothesis that Rembrandt's reliance on sculpture for models was more prevalent and artful (in the sense of covert) than has previously been noted.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hall, Marcia B.
Commitee: Cooper, Tracy E., Dolan, Therese, Silver, Larry
School: Temple University
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 69/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Art history
Keywords: Giambologna, Lievens, Jan, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Renaissance, Renaissance bronzes, Sculpture, Seventeenth century, Studio practices, Tetrode, Willem Danielsz. van
Publication Number: 3307978
ISBN: 9780549576747
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