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Inspiration and Emulation

Selected Studies on Rubens and Rembrandt

Toshiharu Nakamura

Edited By Kayo Hirakawa

This book discusses an important theme in art history - artistic emulation that emphasizes the exchange between Flemish and Dutch art in the seventeenth century. Since the Middle Ages, copying has been perceived as an important step in artistic training. Originality, on the other hand, has been considered an indispensable hallmark of great works of art since the Renaissance. Therefore, in the seventeenth century, ambitious painters frequently drew inspiration from other artists’ works, attempting to surpass them in various aspects of aesthetic appeal. Drawing on this perspective, this book considers the problems of imitation, emulation, and artistic rivalry in seventeenth-century Netherlandish art. It primarily focuses on Rubens and Rembrandt, but also discusses other masters like van Dyck and Hals. It particularly results in expanding the extant body of knowledge in relation to Rubens’s influence on Rembrandt and Hals. Moreover, it reveals certain new aspects of Rubens and Rembrandt as work-shop masters - collaboration with specialists, use of oil sketches, and teaching methods to pupils for example.

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Rembrandt’s The Blinding of Samson: A Work for Artistic Emulation with Rubens?

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1. Introduction

The reader of Simon Schama’s recent book, Rembrandt’s Eyes, might be surprised to find that, despite its title, the publication describes not only the life of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn but also that of Peter Paul Rubens. Roughly a third of this 750-page monumental book is devoted to an account of this Flemish artist’s career. The coupling of the two artists’ biographies is based on Schama’s conviction that Rubens and his art had crucial significance for the development of the young Rembrandt.

For the crucial decade of his formation, the years which saw him change from being a merely good to an indisputably great painter, Rembrandt was utterly in thrall to Rubens. He pored over engravings of Rubens’s great religious paintings and struggled to make his own versions, at once obvious emulations and equally obvious variants. He borrowed poses and compositional schemes wholesale from Rubens’s histories and transferred them to his own choice of subjects…. Rembrandt was haunted by the old master. He had become Rubens’s doppelgänger.1

In a review of this book, Ernst H. Gombrich sharply criticizes Schama’s argument, stating that Schama grossly exaggerates Rubens’s influence on Rembrandt and that the two artists occupied contrasting “ecological niches.”2 “Nobody who has ever visited any of the major galleries would take a painting by Rembrandt for one of Rubens, since ← 155 | 156 → their pictorial idioms are so utterly different,” Gombrich writes. Although Gombrich admits that Rembrandt was certainly often...

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