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Rembrandt and the Divine

Authors:  Silver L.

Year: 2018
ISBN: 978-90-429-3568-6
Pages: XII-106 p.
Price: 38 EURO

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Because Dutch seventeenth-century painting is primarily known for its naturalism, representing the divine posed particular problems for painters of religious stories, especially Rembrandt. Indeed, if seeing is believing, then the visible presence of angels – and finally the presence on earth of Christ as the divine Incarnation in the flesh – could confirm to the senses the presence of divine providence in the world. Angels also evoke a sense of wonder in all who behold them, those who are blessed to receive their visitation from a watchful, if invisible God.
Like John Calvin, Rembrandt carefully read his Bible. Thus his angels, represented traditionally as winged creatures, actively participate in important religious events, particularly in Old Testament scenes, beginning with Abraham. In later biblical history, however, angelic appearances diminish; both God – and angels as His agents – intervene less directly to interact with humankind. In Rembrandt’s art, angels are active and visible, but sometimes they reveal their identity just as they disappear, flying away. Other Rembrandt religious images convey divine presence only through light rays from above. With the New Testament advent of Christ, however, angelic attendants chiefly magnify the divine nature of Jesus in the world. Following the theology of John Calvin that dominated Dutch spirituality, Rembrandt allows his pious viewers to behold those very angels or, like Mary Magdalene and the apostles, even to view the divine nature of the risen Christ.

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