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Revering Rembrandt

The idealisation of Rembrandt on his 400th birthday is inevitable, as is the reaction against it. None of this helps us to look at the paintings

By Sebastian Smee   February 2006

Few artists ever profit from overly awed responses, but there are those—Raphael, for instance, or Rothko—whose work contains an element that cries out for, and is somehow amplified by, idealisation. Rembrandt is the opposite. He had an almost animal thirst for the real, complemented by a maverick disregard for accepted conventions of visual beauty. In painting, in drawing and in printmaking, no artist has ever expressed more naturalness, which is why none is diminished quite as much by genius talk, by the kind of piety that short-circuits true feeling.

This is why, when I think of Rembrandt, I try…

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