Sat, Apr 29, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Arts: Rembrandt lighting in the dark

1: An Old Man in Military Costume, c.1630.Oil on panel, 65.7 x 51.8 cm, Getty Center Collection, US.

Photo: Wikimedia commons

The 17th century has been called the Dutch Century. In this “Dutch Golden Age,” the Netherlands achieved global success in trade, science and technology, warfare and art, and it became a colonial power with a reach that even extended as far as Taiwan.

The Netherlands at the time was a commercially prosperous country, and paintings depicting scenes of city life, or still life paintings to adorn people’s walls, were very much in demand. Although stylistically influenced by the Protestantism that emerged after the Reformation, Dutch art was far less ostentatious and far simpler than the Baroque style found elsewhere in Europe.

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669) obtained the majority of his income, and much of his renown, from his depictions of Biblical stories and his portraiture.

His technique was very much influenced by Italian Baroque art, particularly Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique, but he was far less preoccupied with the beauty of Italian art, and in fact did little to conceal flaws.

Around one-tenth of Rembrandt’s extant works are self portraits. These include oil paintings, etchings and sketches. The painter scrutinized his own visage from when he was a young man in his twenties to the final year of his life. The young Rembrandt shows a man in his prime; the older Rembrandt was painted at a time when he was bankrupt and his loved ones had passed away. The self-portraits, spanning over 40 years of his painting career, show us how he accumulated his own visual diary, depicting himself with utmost candor and profundity.

He would often apply deep shadow tones to the canvas, and then complement them with similarly dramatic highlights to small areas of detail, such as on the face, to create a strong contrast between light and shadow reminiscent of dramatic stage lighting. The extreme shadows made the areas of light shimmer, to great theatrical effect.

Modern photography and movie making techniques have also been influenced by the artist: “Rembrandt lighting,” for example, is named after him. This refers to a lighting technique Rembrandt himself made liberal use of, and which would typically create a triangle of light on the face (see picture 2). With this lighting arrangement, the shadows of the nose and the cheeks would merge and, more importantly, the eye on the shaded side of the face would retain its specular highlight. This would mean that the eye would still appear bright and expressive, enhancing the dramatic effect of the picture.

(Translated by Paul Cooper)









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