Sunday, 16 October 2016

Something New Sunday ...

Someone living here has a house-guest, and since it isn't me I decided to make myself scarce for a few hours to give the couple a little time alone

 A wet and windy Sunday, where to go?

I drove to Oxford, intent on the Ashmolean. And there I spent an hour or so rushing hither and thither without purpose, trying to take in too much, always the over-achiever, slow down, take your time, you do not have to do it all in a day, except that sometimes I worry that there will not be enough time left and so I must try to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

I paused and went to drink a latte in the café. And then I had a word with myself, as we say here. And I told myself that quality beats quantity, at least when it comes to museum visits, and that there will be other days and so I climbed the stairs to Gallery 45, Dutch Art, I think, and was amazed and entranced by the little Rembrandt's First Paintings -  Sensation exhibition.

Rembrandt's First Paintings

The Senses, temporarily on display at the Ashmolean, are the earliest surviving works by the most famous of all Dutch artists, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606–1669).
Painted when he was around eighteen years old, the four panels depict representations of 'Sight', 'Touch', 'Hearing' and 'Smell', the fifth – 'Sense of Taste' – remains undiscovered. This is the very first time that the four surviving panel paintings have been on show together in public, after 'Smell' was rediscovered in 2015.

The Senses were created around 1624–25 when Rembrandt was still a teenager. They are clearly the creations of a young artist who is still developing his own style but they already show great promise. The Senses reveal glimpses of the celebrated painter Rembrandt would become: his bold use of bright colours, his broad brushwork, his ability to capture human expressions, as well as his experimental treatment of light.
The five senses were a popular allegorical theme in the art of the Low Countries. Traditionally each was represented as a female figure, for instance an elegant woman holding a flower symbolised smell. Gradually the five senses were interpreted in a more moralising fashion, underlining that their excessive indulgence could result in sin. From the 17th century onwards the senses were depicted as genre scenes featuring debauched peasants, where drunkenness might represent taste and amorous couples embracing might symbolise touch. Rembrandt's Senses clearly belong to this later type and depict three half-length figures in constricted spaces, engaged in an activity related to the specific sense. Rembrandt also incorporated a subtle undertone of satire in each painting.


A Pedlar of Spectacles

(Sense of Sight)

A pedlar of eye glasses persuading two poor people to try his wares. Rembrandt is said to have meant this as a double-meaning, in Dutch the expression 'to sell someone glasses' also means 'to deceive someone', and in those days the pedlar's turban and gold earrings were often used to symbolise untrustworthy people.


The Unconscious Patient

(Sense of Smell)

The young man has probably fainted after a blood-letting session. The old woman is attempting to revive him with smelling salts while the surgeon watches.

Interestingly, this painting was only recently discovered, less than a year ago, at an auction house in New York.

The Stone Operation

(Sense of Touch)

The barber-surgeon is operating on a man who is clearly in pain. In Rembrandt's time such surgery was performed by quacks allegedly to relieve headaches. Again, the oriental dress and that damning gold earring worn by the assistant with the candle, suggest that he was not an honest man. Another double-meaning, the Dutch 'to cut out a stone' can also mean 'to fool someone'.

The Three Singers

(Sense of Hearing)

An elderly couple and their son singing from a song book in the father's hands. Rembrandt may have intended to suggest the failing hearing of the parents since there are Dutch proverbs that compare the beautiful voices of the young to the wavering voices of the old.

The fifth sense is not represented.
The painting has yet to be found.
So if you come across a sense of taste then please let the Ashmolean know!

I knew very little about Rembrandt before today. I'm still no expert but I have a DVD about his life and works, a book and postcards of these paintings to study in more detail. Bu the main thing, the best thing, was the something new, the stepping outside of routine and habit and the familiar, and into a new world.

Art for art's sake.

And I needed that. Yesterday a stranger, an elderly woman who I do not know, ranted and raved at me in the road outside my house for no apparent reason. I was deeply upset. I blamed myself. What had I done to her? It wasn't until later, after much soul-searching and thinking I concluded that her anger had nothing to do with me, that I had been an innocent passer-by caught up in her anger. But still ...

It's tough, isn't it? Learning not to feel  responsible for everyone else. Tough, but sometimes we have to say sorry, not my problem, and walk away. For our own sake.

Meanwhile, inspired by Rembrandt's Sensations I am writing some flash fiction, five short stories of 500 words on each of the sense. When all else fails, words are then answer.    

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