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Chapter 2 - Politicizing Rembrandt: An Exemplar for New Aesthetic Values, Realism, and Republicanism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2021

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Summary

THE MULTIFACETED IDENTITY FRENCH critics and artists refashioned for Rembrandt created an artistic persona that fulfilled their own needs. He became a figure they could call upon to validate and promote both the aesthetic and political principles they advocated for contemporary French art and society. The growing acceptance and appreciation of Rembrandt's art was related, in part, to a questioning and reevaluation of prescriptive aesthetic values in the visual arts. The political dimension to the recreation of Rembrandt came about when several writers used him in an attempt to bolster their call for art to take a radical socio-political role in nineteenth-century France. They gave his artistic persona political meanings, variously making him into an anti-catholic, an antiroyalist, and a politically active figure. Over time, Rembrandt came to be regarded as the most modern of the Old Master artists and the most suitable forerunner for what a number of critics defined as the modern French artist.

CHANGING VIEWS ON AESTHETICS IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE

Rembrandt and Drawing

Rembrandt's artistic persona was a useful exemplar for many French critics and artists who sought to buttress their challenge of prevailing notions of quality art, specifically as they related his art to definitions of good drawing and beauty. In their subtle attempts to elevate Rembrandt's reputation as a draughtsman, which rendered him increasingly significant in their own time, there was a political agenda of changing academic controls and practices. Critics either tried to justify Rembrandt's talents within the academic system or promote him as an example outside that tradition. Their tactical approach was informed by their own political views of academic conventions and what they believed would most effectively advance Rembrandt's reputation – and that of contemporaries who espoused similar goals – in France. Rembrandt's drawings were never held up as a model in the nineteenth century by leading French art institutions such as the École des Beaux- Arts or the Louvre, but he became an acknowledged precursor for those who sought to contest entrenched traditions and promote the innovations of contemporary artists. In favoring the example of Rembrandt's artistic persona, it seems that artists were hoping to broaden the choices of both technique and subject matter at their disposal, and in this way challenged definitions of good quality art and questioned the criteria of the art academy and juried salons.

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The Rise of the Cult of Rembrandt
Reinventing an Old Master in Nineteenth-Century France
, pp. 81 - 122
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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