A darkness fell over the "Rembrandt's Light" exhibition last week when the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London was forced to close due to a break-in. Although the attempted robbery was thwarted by the Gallery's attested "robust security," the show of 35 paintings, which is slated to run until February 2020, has been closed temporarily for what the Gallery describes as a "full investigation."

Seeing the light

In a similar way, despite Rembrandt's focus on picturing light, darkness also marked his personal life. After only eight happy years of marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh, whose beauty historian Henri Dumont identifies as a source of inspiration to the painter, she died of what Dumont describes as a "mysterious disease." Wait, there's more: three of their four children, a son, and two daughters, died in early infancy.

And their fourth child, a son named Titus, who lived to adulthood, also died the very year he married. Losing his entire family, and living in loneliness, it's a wonder that Rembrandt didn't plunge into despair. Instead, he made light the subject of his many works. Even the fact that he was productive is a wonder. Dumont explains why in his 1948 Book named after the artist:

Loving life

"Rembrandt loved life intensely and missed no opportunity for fulfillment." Besides painting Saskia during their life together - from 1634 to 1642, he continued to paint her from memory. He also painted portraits, mythological scenes, religious subjects, and landscapes. He etched, as well, and had many pupils "whom he fired with his own enthusiasm," Dumont said.

Pictures vs. words

But you don't need to read an art history book to know how vital Rembrandt was. It's plain to see in his work. For instance, in 1642, the year that Saskia died, he painted what Dumont deems his "greatest work" - The Nightwatch - a collective portrait of Civic Guards. "The strange thing about this painting," the historian adds, " is that although a number of well-informed artists, among whom we need only mention Sir Joshua Reynolds, considered it to be a night effect, it was actually meant to represent daylight and even a sunlit scene." This brightness of the image was discovered as far back as 1758, yet the painting continues to this day to be titled The Nightwatch.

That said, whether night or day doesn't matter. As Dumont put it, "The dynamism of this picture is not the least part of its power and beauty."

It's no illusion

One of the exhibit examples in the Dulwich Picture Gallery show, 'Girl at a Window', was characterized in a London Sunday Times review as seeming to "float like an illusion before you." There's no correct way to interpret art.

I see the girl as material and animated with a kind of youthful assertiveness. And in that sense, one might take the image as a Rembrandt self-portrait.

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