September 2, 2013

Painting light into the canvas.

“Women in the 17th century are allowed to smoke, write, correspond with Descartes, wear spectacles, insult the Pope, and breast-feed babies.” -Titia Uylenburgh

“There is no history there are only historians…” -Peter Greenaway

From 1600-1680 we can put forward a compelling claim that Rembrandt is the greatest painter since the Renaissance and, that in the 1640’s Amsterdam is the center of the world, a city on the make with the foxes in the hen house.

The film Nightwatching is a creative response to Rembrandt's famous painting known as “The Night Watch” in a sense an extension of the painting. It dramatises the idea that this picture is a bristling, encoded denunciation of the grand gentlemen who commissioned it – that it effectively accuses them of being murderers, villains, rapists and thieves, and that Rembrandt's furious patrons vengefully connived at the artist's social and financial ruin.

In the movie someone says to Rembrandt of his painting: "You have made a frozen moment of theatre!" That could stand for a general description of Greenaway's film, but for the genuinely affecting account of Rembrandt and Saskia and the shadow of death that comes between them.

This intriguing and revelatory blend of human drama and art-history detective work deftly combines character study and cultural documentary shaped around a truly expressive performance from Martin Freeman as Rembrandt. What’s surprising (in the context of the filmmaker's often chilly past oeuvre) is the film’s genuine compassion for the sufferings of wives, maids and vulnerable orphans, adding an emotive underpinning to its sharp observations on the purpose of art and the nature of representation. 

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich