[self]I don’t know if no one knew about it, or perhaps no one was looking for a little inspiration around 1 p.m. on a Friday, but my visit to Kresge Art Museum had suddenly become a private tour. I meandered through the sliding door, past a reception desk with a few shelves of merchandise, the usual museum fair, and began ambling through the maze of galleries that make up this eclectic corner of campus. After passing modern art, ethnic art and a student employee studying at a lone table, I found what I was looking for.
Tucked away in a modest room, only detectable by a bold red painted sign and an arrow, were the works of a true visionary and pioneer of visual art. The quaint space was designed to display works on paper and is connected to a storeroom full of countless treasures. The viewing room is outfitted only with a television and three old brown leather chairs, broken in by inquisitive minds looking for either a new view of what was before them, or perhaps just a place to sit, meditate and rest their feet. No one wandered in while I was there, except for the occasional employee passing through to storage, but the silence allowed a more intimate observation.
During the sixty-three years of his life, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn completed 300 etchings, 600 paintings and 2,000 drawings, creating a body of work too immense for one venue and just enough to be shared by many museums. The MSU community gets the chance to experience the work and influences of this artistic master as a part of the “Rembrandt and Friends” exhibit through Nov. 5. [bandes]
Rembrandt was born on July 15, 1606, and Kresge is among the many museums around the world that will host exhibitions to celebrate his 400th birthday. The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) will feature “The Big Three in Printmaking: Dürer, Rembrandt and Picasso” until Dec. 31 and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City began a long-running exhibit entitled “Rembrandt and His Circle: Drawings and Prints” in July, which runs until Oct. 15.
Perhaps the biggest memorial can be seen right now at the Rijskmuseum in Amsterdam. The location is fitting, with Amsterdam being Rembrandt’s home from 1631 until his death in 1669. The museum has one display focused on the artist’s drawings, and another entitled “Rembrandt 400 in the Rijskmuseum.”
Susan Bandes, director at Kresge, explained why MSU chose to become involved in this celebration of Rembrandt’s life and legacy. “Rembrandt is one of the best known artists across the world,” Bandes said in an e-mail interview. “This is an opportunity to show prints that are normally not on view.”
[sup]Kresge’s collection of 3,000 works on paper is a plethora of different interpretations, styles and mediums. All of the pieces in the “Rembrandt and Friends” exhibition are from the museum’s own collection which will highlight the work of 12 Dutch artists from the 17th century.
This type of exhibit is one of the quicker ones to assemble. However, being a Works on Paper Gallery exhibition, the work still took about five months. “The prints had to be chosen, matted and researched,” Bandes said. “Labels were written and the prints were installed.”
Of the 18 pieces on display at Kresge, four were done by Rembrandt, and the final 14 are the work of his predecessors, colleagues, students and, most notably, his pupil, Ferdinand Bol. The works are all prints, and they focus on the technique of four main mediums: engraving, dry-point, etching and color woodcutting. It is not difficult to tell that all the talented artists showcased in the exhibit were masters of their craft.
“He and his contemporaries wanted to make subjects believable and easy to comprehend,” Bandes said. “It’s this sense of humanity that people react to and empathize with.”
The four pieces by Rembrandt include “Death of the Virgin,” a stunning depiction of the myth of Mary’s painless death; “Beheading of John the Baptist,” which shows the last chilling moments before John’s death; “Christ at Emmaus,” Rembrandt’s version of the Last Supper; and a self-portrait with figure studies. His self-portrait is from 1632 and depicts a twenty-six-year-old Rembrandt as a dashing youth with a flicker of mischief in his eyes. It is one of the estimated 37 self-portraits he etched. It also features images of peasants and beggars, assumed to be early subjects in his studies of figures and shapes. Bandes suggests he used the plate as a “sketch pad.”
His unique approach to etching is seen throughout all of the prints, but is most evident in “Christ at Emmaus.”
“Instead of drawing a halo, he used the light of the paper (that is, the absence of the drawn line) to create an aura around Christ’s head that just glows,” Bandes said, who describes Rembrandt’s approach to his subjects as “naturalistic.”
[rem3]The images feature everything from pastoral scenes and wildlife to portraits, providing something for everyone. The experience should give all ages a new, interesting way to look at history.
“While these prints are from the 17th century and some of these ways of life depicted no longer exist, visitors will be able to compare what has changed over the centuries and what seems the same,” Bandes said.
On my second visit to the exhibit, I finally found another soul admiring Rembrandt’s work. She was there with her student leadership class, and her assignment was to pick just one piece of art in the museum. Christina Hegwood, a business administration and pre-law freshman, decided to pick one of the pieces in the “Rembrandt and Friends” display. “I like sketches-the fact that it is just pencil on paper. It’s more simple and has more feeling,” Hegwood said. “He’ll take an idea in the Bible that is seen a certain way and turn it.”
Rembrandt’s outlook on life contributed greatly to his talent for perception and interpretation. He developed a view of the world that would allow him to evolve creatively until his death, using his own life experiences to show compassion for his subjects.
“His work focused on humankind and he succeeded in going beyond surface appearances to ask questions about human emotions and thought,” Bandes said. “As he aged, his understanding of what it means to be human became more and more profound.”
This unique view translates into every language and emotion, and has influenced many generations since. The opportunity to view the craftsmanship and diligence behind one of these pieces is one to explore. I was saddened to hear that sometimes these exhibits can be overlooked.
“A lot of people don’t notice because it’s off to the side, but there has definitely been some inquiry about it,” Amanda Bodner, art history senior and employee of the museum for the past three years, said. I left the museum with a page full of notes and a new respect for an artist that I had only really known by name. They say legends never die. Well, we can all only hope that the world will take note of our birthday when we turn 400.

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