There is something about Rembrandt’s (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669) paintings that are fascinating, like Bach’s Baroque musical pieces that are profound and elegant. Rembrandt was Northern European art’s answer to Italian Renaissance art. Then there is more to this wonder of genius that touches humanity’s universal hearts and minds.
What distinguished Rembrandt from his contemporaries was his choice of subjects that were both common and profound in the everyday setting, tinged with a religious theme. Although he was as Protestant as Bach and Handel in terms of his birth of origin being the proud Dutch, he had a Catholic cast of mind regarding the scale and ambiance of the biblical scenes he chose to express. His paintings are an exquisite admixture of sweet simplicity and magnificent sanctity communicated to the eyes then lingers in the heart. It is also realistically factual and mystically imaginative, producing a powerful pathos and awesomeness as though to play a great drama across the canvass in which the actions of the figures, even in still positions, give the impression that they are not suspended in the silence but caught in moments of action.
To illustrate, one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated paintings, ‘ Jacob wrestling with the angel,’ epitomizes such fine moments of vigor and sereneness altogether, sensuously wrapped around in the forces of life of this world and the meaning thereof. Jacob represents our human life full of highs and lows, loaded with energies that fuel the muscles of desires and the heart of will. Jacob looks coarse, plebeian, and sturdy, simultaneously faulty and confused, whereas his angelic opponent is slender, patrician, and imperturbable. The angel of heaven is supra-meaning, the meaning of life, the refinement of life itself, the beauty of life that we strive to find through trials and foils. If Jacob is the Strength of the Human, the angel is the Spirit from within.
Rembrandt is a kind of Artist who has the sense and sensibilities particular to Artist with heart, which matches the spirit of enlightenment that mind without humanity is not genuine intelligence that nourishes our mind. So Rembrandt deserves his constellation of stars shining bright in heaven’s dome in all brilliance.
I still remember an excellent replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in a tapestry form decorated on the wall of our family living room when I was in elementary school. It was vast and expansive, nonetheless magnificent with the profoundness of the scene and the expressions on the faces in it – all wondrous and curious. Now a stream of time has flown, but the first impression of the art still has become one of the stars in my heart’s constellation. “Leonardo and the Last Supper” by Ross King has added to the star the brilliance with telling stories resurrecting the atmosphere of the time and vividness of the people surrounding the creation and the creator of the art.
The book is an alluring admixture of the biography of Leonardo da Vinci and the history of religion, politics, society, and culture; all skillfully swirled in Ross’s skillful narrative account of the person of da Vinci and his work of the Last Supper. The narrative becomes more intriguing as the chapters replete with entertainingly informative tidbits about personal accounts of people related to da Vinci and involved in creating the Last Supper are ascending. The story’s construction follows how Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English essayist and cultural critic, narrated the lives of poets in The Lives of the Poets, composed of a brief biography of a poet, personal accounts of the poet, and professional criticism of the works. The reader will first be acquainted with da Vinci’s biographic backgrounds: parents, a well-to-do lawyer father, and a middle eastern slave mother owned by his father’s household. Da Vinci’s struggle with spelling and even harder Latin education, his fabrication of engineering work experience in his curriculum vitae to obtain a military commissioned engineer post when coming to Milan from Tuscany, and so forth. All the information is a telltale factor contributing to da Vinci’s rise to celebrity in his and our times, which is refreshingly informative to learn that the perennial polymath also had feet of clay with colors of contrast.
Ross is a scholar with a novelist’s magic wand to wield his writing power, casting a spell on facts and knowledge with the beauty of language and ease of words, captivating readers of all life paths with gripping narrative skills. Another book of his “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” which I enjoyed with great pleasure, is a helpful companion to this book because both Michelangelo and da Vinci were contemporaries, working under their aristocratic patronage the recalcitrant spirits of creative souls in reins of livelihood. It would also be an excellent reference to the social statuses of artists at that time. Contrary to our images of free-spirited artists, artists worked for their royal, ecclesiastical, and wealthy employers. Therefore, they were not free to choose subject matters for their works because their bosses wanted their power and fame to become works of art, as it were.
Upon closing the last page of Leonardo and the Last Supper, I reminded myself of Plato’s aesthetic definition. Art is a copy of Form, the perfect, pristine Beauty. It exists only in Idea because da Vinci was also a scientist and an engineer who found perfect beauty in perfect numerical and astronomical elements of nature. However, da Vinci’s Last Supper is filled with pathos, contrasts of human emotions, paradoxes of light and dark, good and evil, constantly changing, never-ending. Da Vinci was a humanist, finding beauty in nature as it is, regardless of perfect Form, the unattainable ideal that is out of touch. One thing right about Plato’s Aesthetics is that art is at best entertainment and at worst a dangerous illusion. That says it. Leonardo’s Last Supper is a soul’s entertainment, and so is Ross’s “Leonardo and the Last Supper.”
“The Entity (1982)” is an American film based on the real-life event of Dorothy Bither, who was habitually raped by evil spirits that followed her everywhere. In the movie, Dorothy is Carla Moran, a young, intelligent single mother of three whose life becomes a Circle of Hell incarnate on earth in which she becomes a sexual slave of the unseen unclean spirits. Despite the physical signs of attacks, her well-meaning but over-zealous psychiatrist Dr. Phill Sneiderman believes that her unhappy childhood and different anfractuous life experience generate the mind’s play. He then forces his belief into her with a superior sense of academic and professional pride, even if her children have witnessed supernatural powers are attacking their mother. Carla catches at straws in the form of parapsychology to set herself free from the demonic forces, even if the help is not entirely altruistic and may turn on a full circle of violation of her body, her heart, and her spirit.
The film agrees to the truth on the supernatural essence of rape by portraying Carla as a woman of diligence, intelligence, and heart who goes to a secretarial school at night for a better future. Her love and affection for children are filled with kisses and smiles, even to her head-strong adolescent son. Her childhood memories and paths she treaded upon thus far might have been labyrinthine, but just because you have past wounds doesn’t mean you are stigmatized for the malady of the heart forever. Dr. Sneiderman’s attitude toward his patient Carla is reminiscent of the late Victorian and early 20th-century institutionalization of women with checkered lives, the victims of violence, into crudely primitive asylums where any sane person was sure to lose a reason before long. However, Carla rejects her telltale testimony to the supernatural terror to be nothing but a tale told by a lunatic woman, full of sound and fury that means nothing.
‘The Entity’ is a classic movie of supernatural phenomena in the ordinary surrounding of Los Angeles, CA. What makes this film classic in its pure literary sense is the absence of gory scenes accompanied by shrill screams of overtly acted characters who know what will happen to them. Nudity is present in the film not as gratuitous scenes of repertories of box-office horror movies but as realistic segments of what and how it happened all. I initially avoided watching this film by its thematic subject of rape and its naturally subsequent psychological narrative analysis as someone craving for a true supernatural story without frequent staccatos of blood splashes and big sharp tooth. It was a low hope for high heaven when the film was impressively indelible in my mind after I watched it last Saturday. If you prefer watching 70s and early 80s supernatural films over slash movies after the golden periods of the genre, ‘The Entity’ will entertain your sentiment and satisfy reason. And remember this: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Don’t forget that.
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