Rembrandt in Print, at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, has been one of the most successful art events in Ireland this year. The exhibition features 50 hauntingly beautiful etchings and drypoint prints by the 17th-century Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, on loan from the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. They depict religious and domestic scenes, and feature landscapes and portraits, including – perhaps most poignantly – those of the artist himself and his wife, Saskia.
“The show far exceeded our expectations,” said Crawford director Mary McCarthy. “Since opening on September 17th, it has been viewed by over 100,000 people, and the catalog has sold better than any publication we’ve ever made, so much so that we’re in our second edition. . Audiences were of all ages and it was especially gratifying to see people come back to the show over and over again. But work rewards that level of interest; it holds up incredibly well, even after 400 years.
The Crawford was fortunate enough to secure Rembrandt’s exhibit before the prints were sent back to the Ashmolean Museum, where they are expected to remain in storage for another thirty years. “This is the last outing the prints will have, probably in our lifetime,” says McCarthy.
Asked to choose her favorite work from the show, McCarthy opts for The Goldweigher, the portrait of Rembrandt by Jan Uytenbogaert, who acted as mediator in his bankruptcy proceedings.
“I love the level of detail it contains, from the questioning expression on the Goldweigher’s face to the folds of the clothes. There is a work of art in the background which reminds us that artistic creation was Rembrandt’s craft, while the table seems about to warp under the weight of the ledgers of the Goldweigher; it reminds us that Rembrandt not only made a lot of money in his lifetime, but also lost it. The image is really a glimpse of how he worked and lived.
To coincide with theexhibition, the Crawford hosted a lecture by historian Tom Spalding on the Dutch influence on Cork City in the 17th and 18th centuries, which found expression in local architecture and culture.
“I myself learned a lot about the trade links between Cork and the Netherlands,” says McCarthy. “I cross Drawbridge Street every day, but it wasn’t until visiting downtown Tom that I learned that the name refers to the drawbridge that stood there at that time. . ”
The Crawford also invited Cork Printmakers to set up a printing studio adjacent to the exhibition, offering an overview of printmaking techniques from Rembrandt’s time, as well as those that have developed since, such as lithography and screen printing.
“I think it really helped people appreciate the physical work Rembrandt put into his prints,” McCarthy said. “It’s a very arduous analog process, but Rembrandt was a master, and his techniques are still used today.”
Dominic Fee is one of the artists whose work is presented at the Print Studio as part of the Rembrandt exhibition. “I trained as an engraver at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in the early 90s and worked as a technician at Cork Printmakers for many years. So I did a lot of printmaking myself, and I teach it too.
“I’ve always been very familiar with Rembrandt’s prints, but most of the ones I’ve seen are reproductions in books, high resolution images that are often enlarged to A4 size. So it’s a very different experience to walk into the exhibit and see how small they are.
“It takes a while for your eyes to get used to the gallery lighting, which needs to be dimmed to help preserve the prints, but it was nice to see Rembrandt’s work as he had it. foreseen. What is amazing about his use of etching on hard floors is that he limited himself to making lines in the wax, so everything is hatched; you cannot achieve the variations in pressure or the effects that you would get with other engraving techniques. But the detail is so fine, I think he must have used some kind of magnification.
The Ratcatcher is one of Fee’s favorite prints in the series. “It’s just a great storytelling story. I love the gestures and expressions, especially the expression of the master of the house as he sort of turns away from the Ratcatcher at his doorstep. Again, the details obtained by Rembrandt are incredible. What fascinates me is the way he has treated the different parts of the plate; there’s a thatched cottage in the background, with smoke billowing from the barely sketched fireplace, while the main characters in the foreground are all fully worked out. He was such a master of the technique.
Rembrandt’s technique is also what fascinates Dr. John Loughman, professor at UCD, specializing in 17th century Dutch art.
“In some ways Rembrandt was a pretty crass printmaker,” he says, “because he had such an urgency to put his ideas down. The Three Trees is probably my favorite image in the series. This is one of his largest indentations, and it is very detailed, but the right edge is quite jagged, which suggests that he did not properly file the plate, and there is evidence of this called fouling in the sky, where it did not. handle the acid like it should have. But he was also so inventive; in this image, he uses etching, drypoint and etching, all together on one plate.
“The Three Trees are a magnificent and mysterious image. There is a theory that Rembrandt was originally working on a different image of some kind of religious scene on the plate, which would explain the mass of detail on the left, where there appears to be a storm. But the sun is shining too, and there are people working in the fields who don’t seem very interested in taking cover, so maybe he captures this moment before a storm hits.
“The three trees in the title are grand and majestic things, and some people have interpreted the image to refer to the three crosses and the crucifixion of Christ. But I think that’s overkill, to be honest. It’s understandable. that there is a religious reading of the scene; the Calvinists saw the beauty of the landscape as proof of God’s benevolence. But in my opinion, too much is happening for it to be a reference to the Crucifixion; there are all these figures in the fields, but there are others too, like the fisherman and his wife, the artist at his easel, and the couple hidden in the bushes on the right.
Loughman emphasizes the importance of Rembrandt’s prints in establishing his reputation. “Rembrandt is perhaps best known today for paintings such as The Night Watch, but during his lifetime engraving was what made his name. The fact that they are multiple and that they are more affordable than paintings, has made them more widely distributed. Even towards the end of his life, Rembrandt received two major painting commissions from Italian collectors based on his prints.
At the invitation of the Crawfords, poet and author Laura McKenna has facilitated a number of creative writing classes based on Rembrandt’s images. “I wasn’t very familiar with Rembrandt’s prints before,” says McKenna, whose first novel, Words to Shape My Name, was published by New Island this year.
“But it was wonderful to see them; they are quite surprising. In our lessons, we first used Rembrandt’s portraits as a way to look at these figures and consider what they might be thinking and feeling. And then we went to the gallery itself to look at the pictures up close.
“Coincidentally, someone recently gave me a magnifying glass, and it has further transformed my understanding of images. It’s hard to believe how much detail Rembrandt put into it, and throughout a process of scratching the lines by hand. Most of the people in our classes reacted to the pictures by writing poems rather than prose, which also seemed appropriate. “
Through her visits to the exhibition and her study of the catalog, McKenna became familiar with the narrative elements of Rembrandt’s prints. “One of my favorites is The Descent from the Cross. There is so much drama in it, so much light and darkness and shadow. And again, there are so many details; there are all these figures, and the one holding Jesus seems almost crouching. The whole scene has a wonderful sense of silence about it.
McKenna suspects that Rembrandt’s exhibition may have influenced her choice of subject for her next novel, which she has worked on throughout the year. “It’s probably no coincidence that this is an artist,” she says. “Although it takes place in the 19th century, rather than the 17th!”
Rembrandt in Print is on display at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork until January 9, 2022. Further information / virtual tour: crawfordartgallery.ie/rembrandt-in-print
The next major exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery is, an exhibition of contemporary color photographs that “embraces aspects of street photography, music and fashion, with elements of the documentary tradition”.
will feature works by: Ayesha Ahmad, Vittoria Colonna, Conor Clinch, Hazel Coonagh, Megan Doherty, Michael Hanna, Cáit Fahey, Audrey Gillespie, Dragana Jurišić, Ruth Medjber, Eva O’Leary, Pádraig Spillane and Niamh Swanton, and is curated by William Laffan and Dawn Williams.
The exhibition runs from January 29 to June 28, 2022