This book aims to locate Rembrandt's idiosyncrasy and his strength in his artistic production, by which I mean in aspects of his studio practice and his relationship to the market that reveal themselves in, or even as, his works.
I started this study by taking issue with the presentation of Rembrandt in my earlier The Art of Describing. There, in a kind of re-working of an established nineteenth-century view, I saw him as an outsider, a loner even, in relationship to the Dutch visual culture. Here I propose to see him not outside but inside his culture, and I do this by considering the circumstances of his shop and the making and the marketing of his art. The Netherlands was, after all, not only a leader in lenses and maps, but also in baking, commerce, and the conduct of trade. Instead of concentrating on questions concerning sight and knowledge of the world seen, which assimilate pictures to the production of natural knowledge, this study concentrates on making and marketing, which assimilate pictures to the production of value.
. . . There is some good stuff here, a neat summary of the history of the professionalization of artistic life for example, but so much is taken on the run (e. g., the comparison between Rembrandt and Flinck on p. 90) that the reader is left breathless. Episodes and arguments, anecdote and non sequitur, run seamlessly into each other as elsewhere in the book. It is meant to look like lateral thinking, but it reads like confusion. The sensation is more akin to watching a television block-buster (The Cosmos, Life on Earth, anything by the Horizon team) where imposing wonder and astonishment on the viewer, thus controlling their responses and subverting their critical faculties, seems to be a priority of the programme makers.
Alpers has little time for such traditional art-historical concerns as a characterisation of the development of Rembrandt's style or his creative approach to subject matter. In their place she offers a synoptic, as it were micro- to macro-economic view of Rembrandt's efforts to produce and market art.
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