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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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How to Construct Better Narrative Compositions: Rembrandt’s Probable Teaching Methods and Instruction


1. Introduction

Beyond doubt, many young artists chose Rembrandt as a teacher because of the major reputation he had acquired quite early in his career. According to Arnold Houbraken, it was crucial to be able to paint in Rembrandt’s style to become a successful artist.

At that time, the manner of Rembrandt was generally praised, so that for pleasing the world everything had to be in that manner.1

Rembrandt seems to have been a devoted and exacting teacher, and his pupils had to work hard to reach the level he required. In his book Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (Introduction to the August School of the Art of Painting), published in 1678, van Hoogstraten recalls his days with Rembrandt as an apprentice and writes,

I sometimes, cast into gloom by the master’s teaching, bathed myself in tears without food or drink, and did not leave my work sooner than I had amended the fault.2 ← 189 | 190 →

During Rembrandt’s roughly forty-year artistic career, his workshop’s activities should not have remained unchanged, and his teaching methods must have varied with the passage of time.3 Judging from surviving drawings, Rembrandt and his pupils worked hard on the study of nudes during the mid-1640s and at the beginning of 1660s.4 While life drawing surely constitutes an important part of Rembrandt’s instruction, it appears that he placed a greater emphasis on teaching the art of copying. He encouraged his students to...

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