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Book Title: Rembrandt's Eyes|
Date of issue: October 25th 1999
ISBN 13: 9780713993844
The author of the book: Simon Schama
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 33.44 MB
Edition: Allen Lane
Read full description of the books Rembrandt's Eyes:The great 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn left us so many arresting self-portraits, painted at every stage in his eventful life, that his distinctive face and bearing are a familiar part of the 20th-century cultural landscape, a recognisable presence in galleries across Europe and North America. Nonetheless, the artist himself remains tantalisingly an enigma. A notoriously difficult man and an inveterate risk-taker in life and art, Rembrandt's aspirations to a grandiose Amsterdam lifestyle in the heyday of his popularity as a painter of portraits and large-scale historical works bankrupted him and he died in relative poverty. His personal effects and his treasured collection of paintings and natural rarities were sold off and dispersed, leaving the historian with a tantalisingly scant body of fragmentary records around which to build a convincing biography.
In Rembrandt's Eyes Simon Schama--the leading historical craftsman of our era, with a career-long commitment to Dutch history--succeeds with consummate skill in bringing the heroic painter of such masterpieces as The Night Watch and Portrait of Jan Six vividly to life again. Returning to the bustling Dutch world with which he first made his reputation in his bestselling The Embarrassment of Riches (1987), Schama recreates Rembrandt's life and times with all the verve and panache of a historical novelist, whilst never for an instant losing his scrupulous grip on recorded fact and detail. The telling surviving fragments of archival information about Rembrandt's personal and professional history are embedded skilfully in a richer and denser tapestry of the commercial whirl and political hurly-burly of the 17th-century Low Countries--a divided territory, split between the Catholic and Protestant faiths and the contested powers of the Spanish Habsburgs and the Dutch Republic--with the tentacles of the tale reaching into the most unexpected shadowy corners of European love and war, aspiration and intrigue.
Rembrandt's Eyes is, in fact, two biographies for the price of one. From the outset Schama contrasts the life of Rembrandt with that of his older, equally artistically talented, countryman Peter Paul Rubens, whose meteoric rise and sustained success as a society painter forms a revealing contrast with Rembrandt's unhappier relationship with fame and fortune. The comparison is a telling one. Where Rubens furnishes the wealthy and powerful with glorious reflections of and visual foils for their social and political aspirations and glory, Rembrandt can never resist testing the envelope of taste and stylistic acceptability. His challenge to his clients to rise to embrace the shock of his painterly experiments with technique, texture and composition, ultimately produced his downfall. The Amsterdam Town Council took down his The Oath-swearing of Claudius Civilis, rolled it up and returned his masterpiece to him, to be cut-down in an attempt to sell it to a suitable buyer.
This is a gorgeous book to own, too. Rembrandt's Eyes is printed on heavy, high-gloss paper, lavishly illustrated throughout in full colour, with double-page colour spreads of the most memorable of Rembrandt's works, which take one's breath away as one turns the page. But above all, this is narrative history at its very best, a page-turner and an adventure story, which will make the reader laugh and cry by turns, in the time-honoured tradition of masterly writing. --Lisa Jardine
Read information about the authorSimon Schama was born in 1945. The son of a textile merchant with Lithuanian and Turkish grandparents, he spent his early years in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. When his parents moved to London he won a scholarship to Haberdashers’ Aske’s School where his two great loves were English and History. Forced to choose between the two he opted to read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Here he was taught by Sir John Plumb whose other students: Linda Colley, Roy Porter and John Brewer are now central to British historical thought. It was Plumb’s influence which instilled in him the importance of narrative and written style in order to gain an audience for history outside academia. One of the hallmarks of Schama’s work is his flair for description: ‘he gets arcane matters to walk, in fact dance, off the page’ according to fellow historian Peter Hennessy. However, his approach is contentious and invites criticism of subjectivity and populism from academic circles. Schama remained at Christ’s for 10 years after his degree, becoming a fellow and then director of Studies, before moving to Brasenose College Oxford. While at Oxford he wrote Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813 (1977), which won the Wolfson Literary Award, and Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1979). At Oxford he met his wife, Ginny Papaioannou a geneticist from California.
Tired of the Oxford system (he once described his experience as being ‘like a gerbil on a treadmill’) and enticed by the freedom of US Academic life, he moved to America in 1980, becoming Professor of History at Harvard. Here he wrote The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987), Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989) and Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations) (1991): an a unusual linking of the death of General Wolfe at Quebec in 1759 and the murder of a doctor, George Parkman, by a Harvard Professor in 1849. Citizens, which was written at lightening speed: 900 pages in only 18 months, won the 1990 NCR Book Award. However, Schama’s emphasis on the terror and violence of the revolution and his argument, that from its beginning it was a ‘sacrament of blood’, ensured it has never found a publisher in France. He is now professor in history and art history at Columbia where he has written Landscape and Memory (1996) which received the W H Smith Literary Award and Rembrandt’s Eyes (1999). The latter is a controversial reassessment of the artist which attempts to reinstate the notion of Rembrandt the genius, aiming to invoke the atmosphere as well as the historical context. In Schama’s view, as he tells David D’Arcy in Art Newspaper ‘There are some passages of sublime reinvention for which history has absolutely no answers…it seems to me pointless and trivial to pretend that it does.’
Simon Schama has also worked for the BBC on a 16 part series: ‘A History of Britain’ and has been an art critic and cultural essayist for The New Yorker and Talk magazine. He lives in New York with his wife and their two children Chloe and Gabriel.
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