Amy Golahny's new book, Rembrandt's Hundred Guilder Print: His Master Etching is the first substantial monograph on one of Rembrandt's most compositionally complex and visually beautiful works.
In this blogpost Amy Golahny reflects on her motivations for writing this new study, and how this artwork has been, and continues to be, a profound source of interest and inspiration for scholars and artists in image and word.
Rembrandt's Hundred Guilder Print, 1646-48, Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
There are some art works immediately recognizable to those familiar with European art, and Rembrandt's Hundred Guilder Print (Christ Preaching) is among them. Yet I never thought I might write about it, because the literature on it was extensive and expert, by curators and researchers who were knowledgeable about the major collections with the foremost impressions of the Hundred Guilder Print. In making connections between Rembrandt and Italian Renaissance art, I discussed this print, because it referred to images by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo. I wrote about it in the context of a Dutch artist plundering earlier imagery to craft his own. In so doing, I realized that, however much was written about this etching, there might be more to explore. This book is the result of that 'more.'
And so I studied the many impressions of it, which are often distinguished by having names of former owners attached to them. Each early impression has its own qualities, distinct by plate tone, clarity and paper. The print demonstrates the range of Rembrandt's etching technique from finely wrought figures to sketchy ones, and from heavily inked shading to cleanly wiped copper plate to show the paper surface. Late impressions revealed aspects of the etching and printing processes, so some of the lines Rembrandt inked over were uncovered, as the third foot of Christ. And then there were the copies and variations, by skilled printmakers that were esteemed as such. Although many of Rembrandt's copperplates survive, as this one of a self portrait, the plate of the Hundred Guilder Print was cut into four pieces, and then disappeared.
Rembrandt, Self portrait in a Flat Cap and Embroidered Dress, c. 1642, Copperplate. Harvard Art Museums/ Fogg Museum, Gift of Robert M. Light in memory of Jakob Rosenberg. Photo: President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Rembrandt himself used the print as currency in friendship. He gave an impression of it to one friend in exchange for an engraving after Raphael which he coveted. In this way he equated his own production with that of Raphael, thus placing himself in the realm of the exalted Renaissance artist, effectively supplanting the past with himself. Ten years after his death, the print was copied for an illustrated bible, which effectively established the canon of artists of Italy, France and the Netherlands. That bible may be considered a guide to European art. Even as other Rembrandt prints were copied for the same purpose, they did not attract so much scrutiny or variation.
As soon as the print was in circulation it became famous, both for its reputed price and for its compelling image of Christ among a multitude with technical bravura from delicate to rough lines. Dutch artists took notice of it. Jan Steen parodied the solemnity of Christ's actions in his raucous painting of a village wedding, but Aert de Gelder considered how he could treat the same theme with spareness rather than embellishment. Up to the present, artists were fascinated by the print, using it as a point of departure for their own inventions or as a too-much praised target to mock. Leon Flameng made etchings to illustrate an elegant biography of Rembrandt, and he imagined the artist outside his grand house, amidst beggars and bustling commerce.
Léopold Flameng, Proof from L’Oeuvre Complete de Rembrandt by Charles Blanc (7 Rembrandt Copies, 2 Flameng Originals), 1859. Courtesy of Williamstown, Clark Art Institute 1982.19.
Poetic attention was directed to it from the moment it was printed, as a friend of Rembrandt wrote his lines directly beneath the image as a direct response; but such regard continues to this day. The image has a rare quality to inspire and challenge poets as well as visual artists. Many - but not all - of the responses from Rembrandt's time to the present are discussed in this book, which includes the earliest manuscript note and the latest poetic homage. There will yet be more to come, I am sure.
-- Amy Golahny, 2021
Pre-order your copy of the book HERE. It will be published on 13th December.
And see more books in our Art / Art History collection HERE.