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Hughes Day

Post #758 • March 22, 2006, 12:23 PM • 13 Comments

Robert Hughes for the New York Review of Books:

Certainly Rembrandt van Rijn did not feel an obligation to make his human subjects noble, let alone perfect. That is why, though not always a realist, he is the first god of realism after Caravaggio. And why so many people love him, since he was so seldom rivaled as a topographer of the human clay. Yet for all that has been written about Rembrandt, we have remarkably little certainty about what he thought about the domain of his genius, the art of painting. He did not theorize. Or if he did, his ideas about art itself have been lost—except for six words, whose meaning is still disputed by art historians. He aimed in his work, he wrote to one of his patrons, the Stadtholder, who employed his friend Constantijn Huygens, to produce "die meeste ende di naetuereelste beweechgelickheijt"—the greatest and most natural movement. But movement of what? The apparent movement of the bodies of the "actors," the figures depicted; or the stirring of the spectator's emotions? We do not know, though it seems more sensible, given the theatrical look and feel of so many of his paintings, to suppose the latter.

Robert Hughes for the Guardian:

Tatlin's most grandly useless conception, however, which has always been the darling of "radical" art historians, was his design for a Monument to the Third International, 1920. It was to be a gigantic open-frame ziggurat of steel, spiralling up from the middle of Petrograd and dwarfing everything on the city's skyline. It would be built on a diagonal, representing that of the earth's axis. It would contain four enormous glass halls, each containing a different ceremonial structure for the Party, all turning at different speeds. The lowest one, a cylinder, would rotate once a year. The next, a pyramid, would turn once a month; and so on to the topmost hall, another cylinder, going round once a day. But although it would have some generally designated uses, these were never thought through - they were just part of the cloudy rhetoric that served to hide the disastrous shortages the revolution produced. The whole affair would be 400 metres high but it never materialised, because it would have used up far more structural steel than the whole of Russia had. It was the unbuilt and unbuildable tower of a Babylonian socialism. Perhaps some faint ghost of it lingers in those enormous and pointless space needles later constructed in the capitalist west, in places such as Seattle and Sydney, capped with revolving restaurants serving pretentious food.

Go AJ go.




March 22, 2006, 4:39 PM

How about the best and most natural movement of the paint?



March 22, 2006, 6:09 PM

It is best not to try to divine the exact meaning of a phrase translated from 1639 Netherlandish. There is disagreement about the meaning of "beweechgelickheijt". I believe it can also be translated as "emotion", which would make more sense.



March 22, 2006, 6:13 PM

That reminds me - what's the difference between Dutch, Netherlandish, and Flemish? I've never understood that.



March 22, 2006, 6:20 PM

Dutch refers to the more northern (Holland) area, Flemish the more southern (current Belgium). Netherlandish is a more general, inclusive term for the whole area. At least that's my understanding. Dutch also implies Protestant, while Flemish is more Catholic. Rembrandt was Dutch; Rubens was Flemish.



March 22, 2006, 6:26 PM

Dutch and Netherlandish are pretty much interchangeable but there is variation between the written Dutch which evolved from early Flemish and the spoken Dutch vernacular. Flemish now is a variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium.

In any event Hughes would have done well to doublecheck any translation of a 350-year-old document



March 22, 2006, 10:18 PM

This 'movement' he speaks of seems to imply the way a stroke of paint mirrors physical form percieved in its volume in three-dimensional space. The slightly raised damp white smock his wife wears for instance has its own foreground, middle ground and background - lean to fat paint here re- creates percieved physical space. We move in his paintings from foreground to back ground and vise-versa. The liquid-to-stone properties of paint, and the legible paths of its application cause us to move with nature as Rembrant percieved it.



March 22, 2006, 11:10 PM

Except that apparently he is not speaking of "movement", as such.



March 22, 2006, 11:20 PM

It works either way.



March 23, 2006, 7:50 AM

Well, not really, particularly if one is intereted in what Rembrandt meant.



March 23, 2006, 8:40 AM

Sure, but in light of the fact that I don't seem to have readers who speak Baroque-era Netherlandish and the fact that I'm not even sure what "beweechgelickheijt" is supposed to sound like, each interpretation works in its own way. Hughes does say that there's disagreement.



March 23, 2006, 8:44 AM

I am merely saying that our inabiility to determine a precise translation does not justify interpreting it any way we feel like.



March 23, 2006, 10:16 AM

But that's what happens anyway, oldpro, even when we know the correct specific definitions or intended meanings. We interpret all things in the way we like.

Unpronouncable art sometimes seems to be more of a sure thing than unpronouncable words.



March 23, 2006, 10:20 AM

I know, Ahab. I was just commenting on the flaws of the inevitable.



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