Rembrandt’s Crucifixion (1631)
This painting is little known in part because it hangs in a parish church in a small French town and was only re-discovered in the 1950's. It also makes scholars very uncomfortable. Not until 2009 did two art historians, Shelley Perlove and Larry Silver, note in a book on Rembrandt's faith that Christ's contorted face resembles the artist himself in an engraving, Self-Portrait with an Open Mouth, made the year before.
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A subsequent exhibition organized by the Louvre, Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, now traveling the States, downplays their observation. A long excerpt from their book is included in the catalog as an independent chapter but it excises all reference to the similarity.1 Another contributor to the catalog, Lloyd DeWitt, notes the resemblance without comment while Blaise Ducos, given the responsibility to discuss the painting in depth, ambiguously notes that Rembrandt here brings "the divine figure to a personal level - through his face."2 She then discusses Christ's suffering in the image without further reference to Rembrandt.
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Rembrandt was clearly immersed in both the Christian and Jewish Kaballah, illustrating a cabbalistic treatise for a Jewish rabbi. A mystical outlook, though, could have been generated in many ways. It was secretly tolerated inside the Roman Church through the influence of figures like St. Francis and Nicholas of Cusa or hounded as heresy outside. In Holland practitioners should have found it easier to imitate the life of Jesus by interpreting biblical events allegorically. Christ to them was not just a historical figure but a living presence inside each of us. Practitioners act through imitation, from reading and through study of the arts; believers take on faith nonsensical stories as literal truth.
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Original Publication Date: 31 Oct 2011
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