A continuous vibrato of brushstrokes

Jed Perl in The New Republic:

053105image_perlGoing through “Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits,” the extraordinary exhibition that was at the National Gallery in Washington this winter and is now at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles until August 28, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the daunting and sometimes baffling variety of Rembrandt’s painterly approach, which involves not only the brush bristles but also the palette knife and the wooden end of the brush and perhaps fingers as well. When the art historian Otto Benesch wrote about these canvases half a century ago, he described “a continuous vibrato of brushstrokes, flecks and scratches with the brush stick, nervous and utterly alive.” The secret of this aliveness has everything to do with Rembrandt’s unwillingness to settle on a method or a system. The protagonists in his late paintings–figures from the Bible or the classical past, or his contemporaries, or family members, or the artist himself–live in a world where all the old Renaissance oppositions between light and shade or volume and void, which had been set in a finely plotted perspectival space, have dissolved. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this dissolution and the revolution that it provokes have taken place at once, for we can feel a simultaneous thinning and thickening of the atmosphere, a fading of all fixed or known structures followed swiftly by the emergence of a new, shocking concreteness.

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