Sunday, March 8, 2015

Selma 50 Years Ago










I have nothing to add to any of this.


EXTRA:

I agree with James Fallows that Obama's speech at Selma was outstanding, and will be quoted and remembered for a long time to come, eventually by people from both parties.






Sunday, March 1, 2015

Boris Nemtsov Murdered



The prime suspect orders a thorough investigation.



Nemtsov speaking at an opposition rally.



Nemtsov under arrest in 2010




Nemtsov lying murdered on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge in Moscow yesterday.  Four bullets in the back



Mourners on the bridge today


Liberalism and liberal values of Liberty and Equality are challenged and attacked everywhere these days, including the good ol' USA.  Supremacism in the forms of nationalism, social Darwinism, and religious fanaticism threatens to roll back and end the liberal vision of universal enfranchisement.

I am grateful for people like Nemtsov who for all their flaws and weaknesses, are willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to the idea that all of their neighbors should enjoy the same rights and liberties as themselves.

Without those ideas fellow LGBTQ kids, we'd all be in jail waiting to be "treated" and euthanized.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Destruction

The IS Head-choppers recently posted a video of their destruction of artifacts in the Mosul Museum.  Here are stills from that video.











It took months and sometimes years to make each of these sculptures using stone tools, grit, and water.  Remarkable how little time it takes to destroy them.

This is hardly the first time in history that fanatics destroyed works of art, but it probably is the first time that they did so for global broadcast on the internet.

These guys go out of their way to say "fuck you!" to all us decadent Western liberals by being such public assholes.  They seem determined to bring back the absolute worst of the premodern past, and parade it proudly before the world:  beheadings, burning people alive, throwing people off of buildings, forced conversions; enslaving children, women, and religious and ethnic minorities; destroying shrines of faiths that are not theirs.   The Head-choppers are the anti-modern cause rejecting everything liberal, feminist, and cosmopolitan carried to its most violent extreme.

I've decided not to dignify IS with the terms "Islamic" or "state."  From now on, I will refer to them as the Head-choppers.

I mostly agree with those journalists who describe the Head-choppers as a kind of death cult.  Perhaps it attracts some alienated young idealists, but it seems to me mostly to attract sociopaths from the West and from Central Asia who relish doing to real people what they do to digital people in games.  The Head-choppers represent an opportunity for unbridled criminality, destruction, and sadism in places where all semblance of law and civil society has completely collapsed.
They do belong to the Muslim tradition, though to a very remote and dark corner of it.  The appeal of the Head-choppers seems to be diminishing among the native residents of Syria and Iraq, even among disenfranchised Sunnis in both countries.

There are those in the West, especially in the USA, who are convinced that the Head-choppers represent Islam.  And yet, the vast majority of the people they've killed are Muslims.  The Jordanian pilot burned to death in such a horrifically spectacular fashion was a Muslim.  The overwhelming majority of people risking their lives to get out of Syria and the Middle East to escape Bashar al Assad and the Head-choppers are Muslim.  I think it is reasonable to conclude that the vast majority of the world's Muslims are horrified by what has arisen in their midst.

To turn this around, there are some very dark and remote corners of Christianity that are every bit as extreme as Al Qaida, The Taliban, and even the Head-choppers.  The most famous would be the Phelps crew whose views and rhetoric are very violent.  There is Christian Dominionism which proclaims its own form of universal theocracy, a kind of Christian caliphate.  And there is Christian Identity that conflates the apocalyptic fundamentalism of the Phelps gang and Christian Dominionism with racist ideology.  All of these groups could easily spin off or turn into violently destructive death cults like the Head-choppers.

The only reason these groups aren't so violent is because they don't get the opportunity.  They live in a relatively secure and stable state that successfully (for the most part) keeps their most violent tendencies in check.  I suspect things would be very different if they had something like the chaotic "failed states" where death cults like the Head-choppers, Al Qaida, Al Shabab, and Boko Haram flourish.


EXTRA:

The Iraq Museum in Baghdad that houses over 7000 years worth of antiquities reopens.
The Museum was looted in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq with more than 15000 artifacts stolen.  Only about a third of those artifacts have been recovered.

MORE EXTRA:

I've decided to take the lead of Secretary of State John Kerry and numerous Arab commentators who now call IS "Daesh."  "Daesh" is Arabic for the acronym ISIL or Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.  However, "Daesh" sounds very close to another Arabic word which means to crush under foot.  The Head-choppers find the term "Daesh" so insulting that they threaten to publicly cut out the tongues of anyone who uses it in the territories that they occupy.  So, Daesh it is.



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Amsterdam


A map of Amsterdam by Balthasar Florisz. van Berckenrode, 1625 (Wikipedia)


Wait a minute!  I haven't finished boring everyone with my slides from Europe this past summer.
And after this post, I still won't be finished.

We ended our long trip with 4 days in the great mother city of New York, Amsterdam.  No other city in Europe shaped the Big Apple (known as New Amsterdam until the British took it over) more decisively; certainly not that cathedral town in northern England, or anything having to do with any Duke of York.  New York inherited its mercenary nature and the remarkable tolerance that has characterized the city from its beginnings to now from that great mercenary and tolerant city in the Low Countries, Amsterdam.

Unless where noted otherwise, these are all my pictures and are freely available, especially to educators.





The Dam in Amsterdam, the heart of the city.  On the right is the Nieuwe Kerk and on the left is what is now known as the Royal Palace, but was originally known as the New Town Hall, the old city hall of Amsterdam.



Gerrit Berckheyde's painting from the 17th century of the Dam when the New Town Hall really was new. (Wikipedia)



Pieter Saenredam's painting of the Old Town Hall from the early 17th century (Wikipedia)





The New Town Hall designed by Jacob Van Campen to showcase the amazing success of the still new Dutch Republic in the 17th century.  This small flood prone state won its independence from Spain and very quickly became rich from the new global economy with colonies and trading outposts around the world, including that little trading colony at the mouth of the Hudson river in North America.  The Dutch Republic soon eclipsed both Britain and France as the wealthiest state in Europe.  The Dutch fleet had the temerity to challenge British supremacy on the high seas.
By the middle of the 17th century, Amsterdam's old medieval town hall was clearly too small for the newly great city.  So, the city decided to build this splendid building to proclaim its greatness to the world; a building that influenced a lot of civic architecture in the United States including Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Today, the New Town Hall is the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.  It is the official residence of King Willem Alexander when he is in town.  When the king is not in residence (which is most of the time), the building is wide open to the public (more so than New York's City Hall, another building whose design was inspired by Amsterdam's New Town Hall).




The New Town Hall is filled with splendid allegorical sculpture, and I'm having only limited success finding information online about it.  The pediment sculpture appears to be about Dutch supremacy on the sea.  The bronze statue on the summit appears to hold attributes of peace, health, and prosperity.






A figure who appears a lot in the sculptural programs in the New Town Hall, Atlas holding up the world.







The great Citizens' Hall inside the Palace all in marble.




Atlas holding up the cosmos, perhaps a sculpture by Artus Quellinus




Atlas feeling the strain




A painting by Pieter de Hooch showing visitors to the council chambers of the New Town Hall in the 17th century. (Wikipedia)





A splendid allegory of Justice with conquered Greed and Envy at her feet.  To the left is a despairing figure of death, and on the right is a figure I would identify as Force.  Above her flies a Fury.  Whoever the sculptor was, he made King Midas with his donkey's ears as the personification of greed; a remarkably candid detail for a mercantile state.  I doubt such an allegory would sit well in the USA where sermons condemning greed are remarkably rare, even from pulpits.
I don't know exactly who the sculptor is.  It appears to me that several very fine sculptors worked on this building.  The name that appears most is that of the Antwerp sculptor Artus Quellinus the Elder.  I assume he was the principal sculptor of the building and perhaps the sculptor of this prominent allegory in the Citizens' Hall.
I was very impressed with high quality of all the 17th century sculpture in the New Town Hall/Royal Palace.  I know next to nothing about Baroque sculpture from the Low Countries and now I'm curious to find out more.

*Gerrit informs us that indeed Quellinus (with his shop) was the sculptor of this Justice group.  Artus Quellinus and Rombout Verhulst were the chief sculptors of the Dam Palace/New Town Hall.





One of three marble inlay maps of the world in the floor of the Citizens' Hall; two hemispheres of the earth and a celestial map.  These are from the 18th century made to replace earlier 17th century inlaid maps.




Here is the location of New York -- excuse me, New Amsterdam -- on the marble map above.




The celestial map




The Great War Council Room with several group portraits from the 17th century and earlier.




The spire of the Westerkerk in the distance from a window in the New Town Hall





The Westerkerk, one of the earliest Protestant churches built in Amsterdam as opposed to converting an earlier medieval church into a Protestant church.  It was designed by Hendrick de Keyser.




Rembrandt's drawing of the spire of the Westerkerk.  He lies buried in the floor of this church along with his son Titus and his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels, both of whom predeceased Rembrandt.  (Picture from here)









The Rainbow Flag on the Westerkerk.  Amsterdam must be the most gay-friendly city we visited on this trip.  We arrived by train in the middle of Amsterdam's gay pride day.  The train station was packed with people, and I was terrified that Bill Paulsen would get knocked over




The Anne Frank memorial just outside of the Westerkerk




The Anne Frank house and museum next door to the Westerkerk





A portion of the long line of visitors waiting to get into the Anne Frank house.  It was too long a line for me.




The Homomonument behind the Westerkerk; a memorial to gays and lesbians killed by the Nazis.





A gay-lesbian visitor's kiosk near the Westerkerk.



The canal in front of the Anne Frank house








Some beautiful townhouses facing a canal with the spire of the Zuiderkerk in the background.  I was fairly exhausted after 5 weeks of travel through Europe when I was in Amsterdam, and I was not as enterprising in my touring as I should have been.  I wish I had taken some time just to follow a canal around the city center to really see the town.  Amsterdam is such a beautiful city.




The Zuiderkerk designed by Hendrick de Keyser, the first specifically Protestant church built in Amsterdam.





Amsterdam was until recently the unchallenged stoner capital of the world with decades of legalized weed.  The city's title of Queen of the Stoners is now being challenged by Colorado.  New York has relaxed a lot of its weed laws, and you can find shops like this in Brooklyn these days.

It was fun to see this, but after living for 13 years in the East Village back in the days when tranny waitresses used to entertain families from Cedar Rapids having brunch at Lucky Cheng's or Stingy Lulu's, and the Punks and the Skinheads would fight it out in the Odessa diner every morning over breakfast, or where I would see musicians having a beer with breakfast at 4AM at the Streetside Cafe or at the Veselka, I was not that impressed.

I didn't get to the red light district.  I might have been more impressed there.




A new one to me.  I was not interested in trying it, but I did take a picture with a self-portrait in the window.




A gay pride window display near the Dam.




The Begijnhof is one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam.  It first appears in city records in the 14th century, though it is probably older.  Beguinages are religious communities of women who have not entirely retired from the world, particularly in the Low Countries.  For reasons that are not clear to me, when Amsterdam became Protestant, the city allowed the Begijnhof to continue as a Roman Catholic institution within certain limitations.  Most of the homes facing the court remain private, and are splendid examples of the Dutch urban domestic architecture that allegedly inspired the town houses and tenement houses of New York.



The oldest surviving wooden house in Amsterdam in the Begijnhof, dating to 1528.



The entrance to the Begijnhof Chapel.  Roman Catholics in Amsterdam were allowed to practice their faith unmolested provided that they were discreet.  They were not allowed to build churches with spires, bell-towers, and any other architectural features on the outside that would identify the building as a church.



Interior of the Begijnhof Chapel in Amsterdam.  "Secret" Roman Catholic churches like this in the very Protestant Dutch Republic were known to everyone.

By our standards of liberal egalitarianism, the 16th and 17th century Dutch Republic comes up very short.  The authorities of Amsterdam were careful to preserve the supremacy of the Dutch Reform Church in law and in formality.  Religious minorities were tolerated provided that they practiced their rites discreetly.  They may have been included, but they certainly were not accepted.

By the standards of the 17th century with its continuing religious warfare and violence, Amsterdam was a beacon of refuge for religious minorities from all over Europe, especially Jews.  Amsterdam was the only city in Europe that did not confine its Jewish population in a ghetto, and one of the few that allowed Jews to buy and to own property.  The wealthy Protestant merchants of the city highly valued Jewish trade connections and professional abilities, especially those of Sephardic Jews from Spain and North Africa.  Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe crowded into Amsterdam, but were mostly poor craftsmen and laborers.

The Portuguese Synagogue is testimony to the success of Amsterdam's Sephardic community.



Interior of the Portuguese Synagogue, a magnificent building for a huge congregation, as large or larger than many Protestant churches in the city.
Mercifully, the Synagogue provided free kippot.  All I had to cover my head was a very tattered and not very reverent straw hat.




Interior of the Portuguese Synagogue in the 17th century by Emanuel DeWitte (Wikipedia);  Remarkable how little the synagogue has changed since the time this painting was made.
Although the Synagogue now and in this painting has a women's gallery, Men and women appear to mingle freely during divine service in this painting.  I get the impression that today's congregation at the Synagogue is much more orthodox.



The entrance and choir of the Synagogue




The magnificent ark of the Synagogue.  Most of the furnishings in the building are the original and in good shape.  The Nazi occupation did remarkably little damage to this building.  Some gold plated panels were stolen out of the ark, but that is all.


Just down the street from the Portuguese Synagogue is Rembrandt's house (with some trash in the foreground).  This was the house Rembrandt lived in at the height of his fame and prosperity.  He purchased it shortly after he finished The Night Watch.  He was forced to sell it when he went bankrupt in 1656.  The house was modified since Rembrandt's death.  The roof and top floor were rebuilt in the 18th century.



The tram to the Dam in Amsterdam.



Here is Bill Paulsen (left) with our hosts in Amsterdam, Knight Hoover (center right) and his partner Ramonda van den Oudenryn (right) with an old friend of theirs, Lucy (center left).
We stayed in Knight and Ramonda's house in Badhoevedorp near Schipol Airport.  Ramonda grew up in that house.  I got to know the Amsterdam bus system well.





The newly renovated Rijksmuseum where I spent a day worshipping at the altar of Rembrandt and admiring the Dutch masters.  If you don't like Rembrandt, then this is the end of the tour because there's a lot of his work in the rest of this post.



The new public entrance at the Rijksmuseum




The restored Hall of Honor at the Rijksmuseum displaying to most celebrated of Dutch 17th century paintings.



At the end of the Hall is a separate gallery with the most famous Dutch picture of all, Rembrandt's Night Watch.





The museum is filled with spectacular displays from the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic; ship models, furniture, luxury goods, etc.




One of many displays of magnificent Delftware including the two large towers on the upper right for displaying tulips.



The crowd in front of Rembrandt's Night Watch.  The crowd was thick, but not nearly as bad as the one at the Louvre in front of the Mona Lisa.  A lot of people were there to actually look at the painting instead of just having seen it.  And there was a lot to look at.




Here is my very bad photo of the whole Night Watch.  Like all bad photos and reproductions of this painting (and a lot of Rembrandt's work), it is misleading.  In this photo as in so many reproductions, the painting comes across as an umber monochrome.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The biggest surprise to me about this magnificent painting was how colorful it is.



This is a reproduction from Wikipedia, the best of the Night Watch I've ever seen.  I suspect a certain amount of Photoshopping to bring out the colors, but it really is close to the original.
I'm not a photography expert, but I'm guessing that the reason so much of Rembrandt's work is so hard to reproduce is not only the subtlety of the colors, but I think because he painted on an umber or red ochre ground like a lot of 17th century painters.  Film and light sensitive digital programs both tend to pick up warmer colors easier than cooler colors, and I've always wondered if some of Rembrandt's underpainting comes through in photos and drowns out other cooler and more subtle colors.

The Night Watch is an old popular nickname for this painting.  It never had an official title, but it is a group portrait of an Amsterdam volunteer militia company, the Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch.  Like many Dutch group portrait commissions of the time, the 18 members of the Company each paid Rembrandt to be included.  Only the Company drummer on the right was portrayed for free.  Their names are all listed on a plaque on the arch top center right in the painting.

There is an old tale that I think began in the 19th century that this painting started the decline of Rembrandt's career, that the members of the Company did not like it and some complained about how they were portrayed.
The evidence seems to indicate that the contrary was true, that the painting was a tremendous success with the Company and with the public.  Captain Bannick Cocq had the painting copied twice; Gerrit Lundens' copy and another watercolor copy.  The painting enjoyed great public esteem for generations.  It was probably that same public esteem that caused the painting to be cut down.  The painting was cut down when it was moved from its original location in the Kloveniersdoelen to a council chamber of the New Town Hall where it hung very prominently between two doors.

Though the painting has been popularly known as The Night Watch since the 18th century because of its darkness, this scene in fact takes place in the day.
Rembrandt turned the usually very prosaic Dutch group portrait into a dramatic event.  The Captain gives the order to his Lieutenant to muster the men to parade formation.  The drummer to the right sounds the call to muster.  Pike staffs rattle, sergeants shout orders, a dog barks, people scurry out of the way, a gun goes off, this is a noisy painting.  The men form up to march forward into the light and out toward us.

Below are some of my pictures from the original.  They're a little washed out, but I hope still convey something of the color of this picture, and what a tour-de-force of painterly virtuosity it is.


Lieutenant van Ruytenburch in his  pale yellow uniform getting the order from the Captain




Captain Bannick Cocq




The Captain's left hand, a key part of the whole picture.  His hand is the closest thing to us, and the whole painting seems to form up like the men behind it.



The beautiful red flash of a sash between the Captain's legs





The Lieutenant's boots and spurs




The shadow of the all important Captain's hand and the Lieutenant's pike pointing the way forward out of the painting.




Loading a musket





The magnificent painting of the musketeer's sleeve with rich glowing reds




One of the many extras in the painting peering out at us



The barking dog, possibly the Company hound, but more likely here a street animal.






The unexpected and amazing variety of colors in the small figure in antique armor just behind the Captain; reds, roses, malachite greens, purples, and golds.




What I think is the oddest detail in a painting full of odd details, the small figure in antique armor behind the Captain fires off a gun right next to the Lieutenant's ear.  The smoke of the blast morphs into the ostrich plumes on the hat of the imperturbable Lieutenant.




The famous "Chicken Girl" long thought to be an impertinence on Rembrandt's part that offended the Captain and his men.  She's one of the most prominent figures in the painting and very brightly lit.  She's too elaborately dressed to be a kind of servant girl scrambling to get out of the way as she is usually described.  She carries a dead chicken with prominent claws.  The emblem of the Company was an eagle claw.  She wears blue and gold, the Company colors.  The chicken claw might be considered a slight, but there's no record of the Captain or his men thinking so.  Rembrandt probably intended no insult, but instead tried to imagine an actual scenario in which someone would prominently display bird claws out on an Amsterdam street.  She might be a kind of Company mascot.  Young girls and boys wearing Company colors sometimes accompanied militias on parade.
What a splendid passage of colors this is! From deep reds to blue-greens, to cerulean, to gold, to violet across this detail.

While the Night Watch was almost universally praised by Dutch critics at the time of its unveiling, it did not enjoy unanimous esteem among later generations of critics.  NeoClassicists and French academic critics were horrified by this picture and considered it a disorganized vulgar mess.  This opinion is shared by some modern critics who consider this to be the most over-rated of Baroque paintings.  Many other critics and historians feel otherwise.  For me, this painting's only equal is Velazquez's Las Meninas.  In contrast to Velazquez's palatial silence, Rembrandt gives us a noisy democratic tribute to his adopted city of Amsterdam.
I can't possibly do better than Simon Schama's writing about The Night Watch:
This promiscuous mingling of modes --symbolic, naturalistic, emblematic, and social -- was yet another instance of Rembrandt pushing a perfectly acceptable manner beyond its expected limit.  For the "historiated portraits" in which sitters got themselves up in the guise of figures from mythology or history were a standard part of the conventions of the day.  Rembrandt, however, does something much more daring, sensing the ways in which men dressed up expressly (and by 1642, often from their own wardrobe) for the public gaze felt themselves, as they strutted by the lines of ogling burghers, to be the contemporary incarnations of something bigger than themselves:  the spirit of the citizen soldier past and present; the pride of Amsterdam, which from nothing, from reeds and fishes, from storms and floods, God had raised to be the new Carthage, the new Tyre. 




A very small copy of the Nightwatch by Gerrit Lundens hangs near the original.  The copy was probably commissioned by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.  This copy shows just how much the original was altered in the 18th century.




The Nightwatch was cut down on all sides, but especially on the left, in 1715 to fit a wall between two doors in a council room of the New Town Hall (there is a full size photo-copy of the Night Watch hanging on that very wall today).  This small copy by Gerrit Lundens reminds us how much and how drastically that cropping changed the painting we have today.  The composition was originally much more spacious and not quite so crowded.  We saw more of the gateway arch in the background and it was more centered.  The parade was originally supposed to be seen forming on a small bridge over a canal.  Two figures and the bridge railing were cut out on the left.




Another famous Rembrandt warhorse, the Syndics; better known in the States as "The Dutch Masters."  This is a much later group portrait, Rembrandt's last, from 1662, seven years before his death.



"The Syndics" are the sampling officials of the cloth drapers' guild.  These men judged the quality of the finished cloth brought to them and gave it their stamp of approval; quality control.
This is a much quieter and less spectacular group portrait than the Night Watch from about 20 years earlier.  Rembrandt is less interested in theater here than he is in monumentality.  Gary Schwartz  in his book on Rembrandt points out that the Guild was over 250 years old at the time of this painting with group portraits of sampling officials hanging in the guild hall from as early as 1559.  The paintings always showed 5 men and a steward seated and looking at the viewer.  Rembrandt may have been instructed to stick to precedent.
Apparently, Rembrandt originally showed the figure second from the left as standing fully erect.  Four of the 5 sitters complained and Rembrandt altered the pose to suggest a kind of half-seated position; perhaps standing or sitting.



And here he is standing up or sitting down



Schwartz in his archival researches identifies this man as Volckert Janz., a Mennonite from Frisia.











The splendid painting of the hand and book





Another one of Rembrandt's last paintings, popularly known as "The Jewish Bride," but what exactly is the subject is anyone's guess.  Gary Schwartz identifies the couple as actors in a popular play of the time, Cyrus and Aspassia.  Simon Schama identifies them as Isaac and Rebecca.  Your guess is as good as mine.
I will hazard to guess that they are an actual couple posing for their portrait in costume.  They are role-playing.  Schama speculates that this is a Jewish couple.  Indeed, Rembrandt's Jewish clients were among his most loyal and supportive, even in his last years when he was out of fashion and the critics dismissed his work when they noticed it at all.





A magnificent painting of a couple that is not young.  One of my old professors thought that he may have just placed the elaborate gold chain on her shoulders as a gift and that she is responding.





The tender and superb hands





This gesture is one of the great moments in painting





A tenderness that is more adult than young; the tenebrism and the grainy painting tell of genuine feeling won out of hard experience.





Her face that appears to be just starting to respond to his embrace.






This amazing field of rich glowing red in paint that appears to be troweled on, it is so thick.  That's the thing that is so amazing about Rembrandt's final work, paint as grainy substance that is so luminous at the same time.
All the implied passion, emotional and sexual, between these two people finds its expression in this amazing field of red.



His amazing golden sleave



More luminous paint applied with a trowel (more likely a big hog bristle brush).




The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, Rembrandt's last public commission, painted for the New Town Hall in 1661 - 1662.  Rembrandt was one of many leading Amsterdam artists hired to paint scenes from ancient Dutch history for the new building.  This painting was originally much larger, an arch shaped canvas.  This painting hung for about a month in the New Town Hall, but after the very hostile reception from critics and the public, the city returned the painting to Rembrandt without payment, and replaced his painting with another of the same subject by Govaert Flinck.  Rembrandt himself cut the painting down to a more sellable size.
Critics of the time ridiculed the painting as looking like dung.  The public saw the painting as both crude and very old fashioned, nothing like the polished classicism fashionable at the time.
Today, we regard this painting as one of the most daring and adventurous of the 17th century.

What luck!  The painting was on loan from the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.



The painting shows a scene from the uprising of the ancient inhabitants of Holland, the Batavians, against the Romans as described in Tacitus' Histories.  The one eyed Claudius Civilis invited tribal chieftains and others from the lower classes to a banquet in a sacred oak grove and persuaded them to join the rebellion.  They took a solemn oath seen here in Rembrandt's painting





Light that seems phosphorescent glowing off the table top dissolving the forms around it.




The sword oath is apparently Rembrandt's invention.  The golden goblet of wine on the right is mentioned in Tacitus' account.




By the standards of the 17th century (and for 2 centuries after), this is a wild painting.  The faces are simplified and grotesque, roughly chiseled out of the dim light and darkness of the setting.  It's not until we come to the final works of Goya (which were private and not seen publicly until 40 years after his death), or to the works of the early 20th century German expressionists that we find anything similar, but nothing else seems to glow with its own eerie light like this painting.






I'm not sure, but I think this is the original location in the New Town Hall where Rembrandt's Claudius Civilis hung.  A painting of the same subject by Govaert Flinck hangs there now.




A magnificent early portrait by Rembrandt of the preacher Johannes Wtenbogaert.  Wtenbogaert was a leader of the Remonstrant or Arminian faction of Dutch Calvinism that called for a more humane and tolerant interpretation of Scripture and religious doctrine.  Their opponents were the Gomarists (followers of Franscicus Gomarus) who insisted on pure doctrine and no compromise or accommodation with Catholics or other religions.  Rembrandt was born and raised in Leiden, a Gomarist stronghold, to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother.  Rembrandt declared his Remonstrant sympathies in the very act of moving to Amsterdam.



The superb head of preacher Wtenbogaert.  I have growing admiration and respect for Rembrandt's early work.



The painting of the very expressive face and the collar is wonderful.  Amazing for an artist who was still in his 20s.




Rembrandt's very fine early portrait of Maria Tripp.  She was from a very wealthy and prominent mercantile dynasty in Amsterdam.



A detail of Maria Trip; an example of why the young Rembrandt rose so quickly as a favorite portrait painter in Amsterdam.  He could paint fine materials better than anyone else (the pearls and the transparent lace are perfect examples here), and he could give a sense of character and drama even to a relatively straightforward portrait such as this.




A magnificent ebony cabinet made by Herman Doomer that called to mind something very familiar to me in New York.



Here is my photo of Rembrandt's splendid painting of Herman Doomer in the Met Museum in New York.  Doomer frequently made frames for Rembrandt and apparently was a friend of the artist.



A very small self portrait by the still very young Rembrandt, still in his early 20s and living in Leiden, his hometown.



This self portrait of Rembrandt contains so much of what would later characterize his work to the end of his life; the dramatic tenebrism, the expressiveness of the face, the feel for the material of the paint itself.
Young Rembrandt usually role plays in his self portraits; sometimes those roles can be comic. Here he portrays himself as the tousle haired unrefined miller's son from Leiden that he was (never mind that he was the only major artist of the 17th century with a university education, and that includes Rubens).




As he would in his later work, Rembrandt uses the butt end of his brush to scrape highlights out of the paint in his hair.





Rembrandt role plays in one of his last self portraits.  Here he is posing as Saint Paul.

Rembrandt's work remains very popular.  The crowds looking at his work in the Rijksmuseum and in other museums around the world are testimony to that.  People love the drama and emotion in his work.  His tragic life story (like the tragic biography of another later Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh) only enhances his popular appeal.   And yet, Rembrandt is a very awkward fit in our culture.  Western culture these days worships youth and success.  Rembrandt's best dramas are about failure.  The flesh in all of his paintings is not the alluring youthful flesh that is commonplace now in commercial imagery, but vulnerable flesh battered by time and experience.  That is true even in Rembrandt's pictures of the young.
This painting from near the end of his life may seem like presumption on Rembrandt's part, but it too is a drama about failure.  The Paul that Rembrandt plays here is not the Apostle to the Gentiles, but the Paul who wrote such candid confessions of his own failures and of the inner conflicts within his self that cause him to do what he does not want to do.  Paul the hypocrite, Paul the failure, is the role Rembrandt plays here.  Rembrandt was bankrupt and living in poverty when he painted this picture.  Worse, his son and mistress shared that poverty and worked hard to protect Rembrandt from creditors.  This is a painting about remorse among many other things.



Never was light falling across a puffy sagging aged face painted more splendidly than in Rembrandt's final self- portraits.












The crowd at the Rijksmuseum in front of some very famous, and very small, paintings by Jan Vermeer.




One of my favorite pictures by Vermeer.  The Vermeers at the Met Museum in New York are all very small, so I'm not sure why I was so surprised at how small this picture really is.







The Woman Pouring Milk is one of my favorite Vermeers with its pools of brilliant unmixed color and its amazing feel for light and atmosphere.  No one painted diffuse light falling on a plaster wall as splendidly as Vermeer.








One of the grandest figures Vermeer ever painted.




A foot-warmer with a ceramic pot for hot coals; behind is a row of Delft tiles.





For once, the slight out of focus is not the fault of my camera here.  Vermeer did this deliberately.  It is possibly an effect of his use of the camera obscura that he retained in the finished painting.  Vermeer's work is about seeing and rendering what is true to experience and observation as truthfully as possible, and about where truth to experience ends and the truth of painting begins.  Those amazing details dissolve into pools of light and color reminding us that we are looking at a fiction, at a painting, not at real life.
Vermeer experimented with all kinds of gadgets to help him with his painting; with lenses, mirrors, and especially with the camera obscura.  He was close friends and neighbors with the inventor of the microscope, Anton van Leeuwenhoek.





One of many wonderful paintings by Frans Hals
I regret that I didn't take pictures of his magnificent group portrait of the Archers of Saint Hadrian which hung in the same gallery as the Night Watch.





Hals' remarkably deft brushwork which gives his portraits a fresh spontaneous quality even when they are anything but spontaneous.  They also give his figures a sense of motion as though they are caught in mid gesture.







Artists from Rembrandt to Manet would admire and emulate Hals' painterly eloquence.








An allegory of peace between Protestants and Catholics, Fishing for Souls by Adriaen van de Venne from 1614, perhaps a commentary on the peace that ended hostilities in the Low Countries and permanently divided the Protestant north from the Catholic south at the Schelde River.  While the rainbow of peace joins the two sides, van de Venne's sympathies are clearly with the Protestants.  Their boats and their shore are far more crowded, the sun is on their side of the river, and the trees are greener and healthier on the Protestant side.




Protestant preachers easily and successfully fishing for souls.





Catholic clerical stereotypes struggle to win souls on the other side of the river.





A favorite early Dutch painting of mine completed in 1504 for the Church of Saint Lawrence in Alkmaar, a town just north of Amsterdam by an artist now identified as Cornelis Buys the Elder.  It shows the Seven Acts of Mercy in seven panels, long known as the Alkmaar Panels.
This painting inspired one of the few acts of popular resistance to the iconoclasm that swept through the Low Countries after the Reformation.  The locals always loved these paintings; even after the town went Protestant, they remained in the church.  In 1582, two Protestant fanatics threw a bucket of black paint across these paintings.  The  townspeople were outraged and arrested and tried the two men.  They restored the paintings and returned them to the church.



These panels illustrate a favorite Scriptural passage of mine from the 25th chapter of Matthew, "Truly I say to to you, as you did it to the to the least of these my brethren, so you did it to me."  Here strangers (dressed here as religious pilgrims) are welcomed.  If you look closely, Christ appears in this and in every panel, but you have to look for Him.



"I thirsted and you gave me drink"





"I was hungry and you fed me."  That these panels make no effort to be historically accurate, but instead locate the story in an early 16th century Dutch town (perhaps in the streets of Alkmaar itself) is precisely the point.


PS...
 I also visited the Vincent Van Gogh Museum which is right next door to the Rijksmuseum.  Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, but I'm going to put together some Wikipedia pictures like this one and talk about some of the things I saw there in an EXTRA.