Rembrandt’s extraordinary paintings of female nudes – Andromeda, Susanna, Diana and Her Nymphs, Danaë, Bathsheba – as well as his etchings of nude women, have fascinated many generations of art lovers and art historians, but they have also elicited vehement criticism. They were considered against-the-grain, anti-classical, even ugly and unpleasant. However, Rembrandt chose conventional subjects, keeping close to time-honored pictorial schemes, and was well aware of the high prestige accorded to the depiction of the naked female body. Why, then, do these works deviate so radically from the depictions of nude women by other artists? To answer this question the author examines Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings against the foil of established pictorial traditions in the Netherlands as well as Italy. Exploring Rembrandt’s intense dialogue with the works of predecessors and peers, the author demonstrates that, more than any other artist, it was Rembrandt’s purpose to incite the greatest possible empathy in the viewer. This had far-reaching consequences for the moral and erotic implications of the subjects Rembrandt chose to depict. In this richly illustrated study the author presents an innovative approach to Rembrandt’s views on the art of painting, his attitude towards antiquity and Italian art of the Renaissance, his sustained rivalry with the works of other artists, his handling of the moral and erotic issues inherent in subjects with female nudes, and the nature of Rembrandt’s artistic choices.
This title was shortlisted for the Charles Rufus Morey Award of the College Art Association in 2007