Apologies (blame Rembrandt edition)

October 6 2014

Image of Apologies (blame Rembrandt edition)

Picture: Royal Academy of Arts, Sweden

Sorry for the lack of posts at the end of last week. I've been writing a piece on Rembrandt for the FT, as a preview for the National Gallery's forthcoming 'Late Rembrandt' show, and it has taken me longer than expected. I didn't fully realise until now how chaotic Rembrandt scholarship has become. Will Rembrandt's oeuvre ever recover from the art historical predations of the last half century? I doubt it, but here's hoping. 

Anyway, the National Gallery has today announced a new, last-minute loan for their exhibition; Rembrandt's The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (about 1661–2), which is being lent by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden. It has never been seen in the UK before. 

Here's the National's press release:

The unprecedented last minute loan of The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis (about 1661–2) to this landmark exhibition, sponsored by Shell, that opens in just 10 days time (15 October, runs until 18 January 2015) will be the first time the painting has ever been to the UK. 

Owned by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden, the painting has only left Sweden twice in that time, in 1925 and 1969 (on both occasions for showings at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Rembrandt: The Late Works, says, “The extraordinary circumstances of the commissioning and early history of this painting are perhaps the most eloquent statement of Rembrandt’s position in Amsterdam artistic circles in the early 1660s, one of the central questions addressed in the exhibition. That is just one reason why I am absolutely thrilled it is coming to London.”

Measuring an imposing 196 x 309 cm, The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis is the only surviving portion of a painting Rembrandt made for the Town Hall (now Royal Palace) in Amsterdam (“This may just be the most heartbreaking fragment in the entire history of painting“ – Simon Schama, The Power of Art). Begun in 1648, the Town Hall was a proud expression of the power and wealth of the city and its people. The interior decorations were chosen to illustrate noble virtues; the story of the Batavians’ struggle to overthrow their Roman oppressors was considered symbolic of the Dutch Republic’s recent liberation from Spanish rule.

Rembrandt’s monumental canvas was hanging in the Town Hall by the summer of 1662, but was removed in the autumn of that year and cut down to its present size, presumably by Rembrandt himself. Nothing further is known of the painting’s whereabouts until 1734, when it was sold at auction in Amsterdam to a merchant from Estonia. His descendant donated the painting to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden, in 1798. It has been on display at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm since 1866.

Susanna Slöör, Permanent Secretary, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden said “The Royal Academy is thrilled and very proud to contribute to the understanding of Rembrandt’s late works by a loan of Claudius Civilis, the most prominent painting in a Swedish collection, to be shown in this fabulous context to a world audience. We are very grateful for this cooperation and look forward to a lasting relation with the National Gallery to enhance knowledge and interest in this extraordinary painting.”

In Trafalgar Square, The Conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis will have a central position in the section of the exhibition devoted to Rembrandt’s extraordinary use of light.  It will be shown together with Rembrandt’s sketch for the work (on loan from the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich), which is the only surviving record of the painting’s original composition and format. 

Betsy Wieseman again “The raw savagery of the figures and the clandestine nature of their meeting are brilliantly expressed by means of Rembrandt’s broad brushwork, and the odd and dazzling effects of the light cast by the lamp hidden by the figure in the immediate foreground. The juxtaposition of the two works – drawing and painting - will enable the visitor to imagine how, in Rembrandt’s vision; the scene’s unearthly glow would have been dramatically amplified by situating the huddled conspirators within a dark and cavernous setting. We are extremely honoured that the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Sweden, has permitted us to include this important painting in our exhibition.”

PS - there's an important update to my post below on Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine'.

Update - this isn't the only overseas Rembrandt loan in London at the moment. A reader alerts me to the Rijksmuseum's loan of a c.1630 Rembrandt to Kenwood House: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. More details here

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