Archive for January, 2010

Rembrandt’s Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver

January 7, 2010


What’s on Your Palatte?

January 7, 2010

Towering over all Dutch Baroque painters is Rembrandt van Rijn. Like many of his 15th Century contemporaries, Rembrandt painted portraits, landscapes and genre scenes.  He refused to specialize in painting and succeeded in all.  By masterfully blending light and darkness on his canvasses, created the essential drama of the characters and objects he was painting.  In so doing, he revealed a depth of intensity and a deep understanding of the subject’s character.

Rembrandt painted for his own pleasure as well as for commissions from individual patrons. Though he painted Biblical scenes, as a rule, he did not accept commissions from the Church.  One example is Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver. In this painting a distraught Judas is shown with the Temple rulers after his betrayal of Jesus.  He has just hurled the silver coins at them.  All six subjects seem to be caught in mid-action as if in a movie still.  Judas’ face receives more light than the other five, but immediately your eye is drawn to the most brightly lit object which is the open Torah.  From there, the light in the painting seems to climb the cloak of one ruler and then creep around the faces and the shoulders of the other subjects in the group. This circular pattern of light leads the eye once again to the Torah. 

What palatte, or group of colors did Rembrandt use in this painting?  The paint tubes would have come with names such as burnt sienna, burnt umber, lamp black, gold ochre, ultramarine blue, and deep violet.  Rembrandt’s body of work consisted of canvases of mostly brown and blacks, with other subdued hues for emphasis.  Rembrandt used color to reveal light and darkness in a most controlled manner.  He brought emphasis to his canvases by the use of light and color.

Contrast this palatte and style of painting with the 19th Century Impressionists. Impressionists were said to be intoxicated with light. The Impressionist movement began with Claude Monet’s Impression-Sunrise.  Monet demonstrated that it was not the rising sun that he was painting, but rather the impression it had left on him.  The brush stokes on the canvas are visible and appear spontaneous.  Most Impressionist paintings are vividly colored landscapes, some interiors, and genre scenes.  Color is often used unconventionally.  For example, a still life might show violet shadows cast by a group of oranges on a white tablecloth. The palatte consisted of paint with names like cadmium orange, veridian green, thalo blue, and lead white. Browns and blacks would be there too, but they played a lesser role in the background. Other times black was placed in juxtaposition to contrast  the strong primary hues.

Baroque painters and Impressionist painters both reveal the power of light to the beholder, but in radically distinct ways.  Both painted to reveal the power of light.  Both painted not so much what is seen, but how it is seen by the artist.  Both say with an entirely different palatte, “Isn’t light wonderful?” See what light reveals!

So reader, what do you have to work with?  Each of us has certain gifts, abilities and talents.  As for me, my father was musically gifted and very unathletic. In contrast, my mother was very athletic and couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket”….in other words, she was tone deaf!  I inherited two characteristics…gifts from each of them.  Let me help you guess as I tell you that I was always the last one to be picked for the softball games at school and in order not to offend those around me I sing quietly in a group setting. I have just described my gifts in the way that most of us have come to see our gifts; I have told you what gifts I do not have, rather than the talents and gifts I actually possess.

Madeliene L’Engle said in Walking on Water,(p.148) ,”All artists must listen, but not all hear great symphonies, see wide canvases, conceive complex character-filled novels, and it is an act of faith.” This is true of life as well, for the degree of talent is immaterial when it comes to living artful, creative lives.  Lending an ear and listening are not the same.  Looking requires less of us than seeing.  Effort is required.  I think you know the difference.

Today, what are you seeing and hearing? What is on your palatte? “Great artists carry on with their work on the lines God has laid out for them, quite unaffected by the esthetic worked out for them by philosophers” according to  Dorothy Sayers.  What are you working on?  What will you do with it? Do what you can with what you have. What “beauty” will come of your efforts?

Claude Monet’s Impression-Sunrise

January 7, 2010