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.
The wake of Black Lives Matter and subsequent racial justice movements have upended the fundamental quo of society from education to fine arts with full force and effect amid the Pandemic pandemonium. What was once a work of art is not art any longer if it is suspected of socially inappropriate. The Dawn of Brave New World looms large as the storm of revolution sweeps across schools’ hallways and the galleries of museums. Now the Reckoning Force stops paintings outside their racial principles and social taste in the case of Philip Guston Now.
According to Julia Friedman’s recent essay about the artist’s paintings mentioned above, museums delayed exhibition worldwide until 2024. The woke culture tries to dominate the arts and humanities like Orwellian leviathan censoring the artistic expressions to curtail them into their Brave New World puritanical disciplines, breeding their types of artists conforming to the abstract figurative standards of ideological art. But that is what the directors of the NGA, Boston MFA, Tate Modern, and Huston MFA have done, holding off Guston’s 24 images from the 19060s and early 70s, which evoke imagery of the Ku Klux Klan through buffo depictions of hooded figures. In terms of the newspeak, the subject matter of the paintings in hooded robes implicate that Guston is a racist who exposes the vulnerable, the most eggshell sensitive viewers of non-whites, especially blacks, to “incendiary and toxic racist imagery” regardless of the intention of the artist.
In her essay, Friedman opines that a lack of intellectual vigor on Guston’s subject paintings’ contextualization fails to protect the artistic license, but I differ from her opinion. Art is not for the practical analysis of sensibility, nor a vehement statement of a political campaign or social agenda. Art is an ultimate expression of the individual soul with universal appeal to all human creatures regarding principles of judgment and sentiment common to all humankind. In this sense, shaking the foundations of all social institutions and governing individuals’ Sense and Sensitivity are no less damaging than the dictatorship of minds. Just because you in with the Movement does mean you should conform to what they tell you to think and like. Artists should not hurry their imaginations with public affairs at the moment of creation. Stop patronizing the public what to like and how to think. Let us judge them on our own. Let art be for art’s sake.
Although art is territorial, it’s never divisional; it crosses over the branches of art and begets a hybrid of wondrous beauty that spreads through the mind of the beholder and lingers there in alterations, evoking an arch of endless imaginations and a well of inspirations, appealing to our human faculty that is rather physical than metaphysical, sensual than intellectual. It’s a mating of the Senses, a marriage of Reasons perfected in letters or paintings, all in the mastery of stories, colors, and forms begotten by divine madness of artists copulating with a sensation of the flesh in putting a method of expression to its love bed of paper or canvas. Such a love child of arts results in Titan’s riveting masterpiece the ‘Poesie.’
Titan (1488-1576), one of the most celebrated artists of the Italian Renaissance, created the ‘Poesie,’ a cycle of 6 mythological paintings inspired by Ovid’s ‘the Metamorphoses,’ stories about famous mythological figures in poetry, which was the very reason that Titan chose it as his subjects. Originally commissioned by Phillip II, the life-sized portrait of whose father Emperor Charles V catapulted Titan to stardom in European courts, the ‘Poesie’ gave him the artistic freedom to experiment with different styles of painting incorporating secular subjects that attracted the welcome attention of intellectually ambitious aristocrats. The ‘Poesie,’ meaning poetry in French, is a hexaptych of human emotions expressed in mythological figures that are all too familiar and universal common to all human creatures. It displays the vagaries of human emotions, ranging from euphoria to anguish, passion to regret, and greed to pain, all the artistry in each of the paintings. Titan wanted to create the visual equivalent of the poetry in which Venus burning in passion for her young object of desire Adonis, Europa ravished by Zeus in a bull’s hide, Actaeon chancing upon Diana’s bath and other divine and mortal beings, such as Danae, Perseus, Andromeda, and Calisto intermingled in sensual pursuits were to be translated by strokes of a brush, plays of colors, and dramas of human feelings and emotions. In fact, it is this Titan’s talent both as a storyteller and a painter that sets him apart from his contemporaries and renders the work immortally enshrined in the atrium of universal arts.
The ‘Poesie’ is currently on display in London’s National Gallery exhibition for the first time in over 4 centuries, following an example of Vatican’s concomitant display of Raphael’s tapestries at the Sistine Chapel. Notwithstanding the thematic and geographic differences, the works of the masters delight the eyes of ours as harbingers of art as artifacts of human civilization consisting of the standard of taste and reason universal in all human creatures as regards the principles of judgment and sentiment common to the eyes and minds of all mankind.
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