Rembrandt van Rijn Jan Asselyn, Painter 1647 etching, drypoint, and engraving
A strange series of events including a laboratory fire (which thankfully did not affect my husband’s work, as it was not in his building but instead the one adjacent to it) led Ryan to need to go back to Stanford last Saturday afternoon when we had planned to go out on some errands together. He invited me to go with him on the train so I could visit the Cantor museum while he worked and we could do our errands on the way home. I so rarely get to go to museums anymore that I was happy for the chance, and felt extra lucky that one of the current exhibits at the Cantor museum is of Dutch golden age intaglio prints. The show is loosely grouped around the theme of daily life and the selection was large and impressive, including some very beautiful Rembrandts, mostly portraits and self-portraits and one landscape. The prints are all very small, very intricate, and very intimate, since you have to stand very close to them to study them well, so that they feel very dear.
While all of the artists were accomplished, the Rembrandts stood out for their exquisite range of tone. No other artist mastered the velvet blacks that Rembrandt used so well to make even the tiniest figures feel real, dimensional, physically and emotionally genuine.
The other part of the show that was most intriguing to me was a set of twelve prints representing the twelve seasons of the year. They were all distant views of Dutch landscapes with very tiny figures going about their seasonal business and pleasure: ice-skating, buying and selling food, plowing fields, harvesting, talking, playing music. The way the landscapes were laid out for the eye to roam and travel reminded me of Van Gogh’s large fields. The trees felt more important than the people, larger and more detailed and slower. The whole series had a feeling of slowness—the very gradual shifts of bare branches to small leaves to large leaves--- the people ice-skating in January and ice-skating again at the end of the series in December. It made me reflect on time and how over three hundred years have passed between then and now with each gradual shift in the seasons subtly shading one month into another and another and another and the tiny people living and dying and the artist living and dying until here they are on another wall in another part of the world and I am one of the people living and looking at these tiny people who lived so long ago and someday I will die and someone else will be looking at them, and maybe at artwork of my own, if I am lucky.