Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 January 2021
Among the thousands of artists who have ever tried to interpret the world around them, Rembrandt van Rijn belongs to a small group who live on today as both an Old Master and a household name. The cult of Rembrandt does not just flow from his brush and etching needle, it is the result of his universal appeal, the accessibility of his personality and the capacity for his persona to be reinterpreted and reinvented by successive generations of academics, acolytes, and ordinary people alike. Indeed, Rembrandt is the only artist in history to have an international team of scholars reevaluate his output of paintings in an as yet unfinished project begun over thirty years ago. The Rembrandt Research Project, a team of specialists founded by the Dutch Government in 1968, navigates the globe attributing and deattributing paintings, often to the dismay of private collectors and museum curators. One wonders how this particular Dutch artist came to assume such a privileged position. Why is Rembrandt the center of such extensive scholarly and popular debate? The obvious answer is the marketdriven phenomenon of contemporary art sales, which requires a clear distinction between works produced by the Dutch master himself and those executed by his students, followers, and admirers. In elite art circles, scholars also vie to protect Rembrandt's reputation from being sullied by any connection with lesser-quality works.
The reverence of Rembrandt is not solely the domain of art experts and he is popularly known today through mainstream movies and even a pricey Rembrandt® toothpaste, from Den-Mat Corporation. In this case, he is a curious choice since Rembrandt does not actually depict teeth very often. And when he does, the dark teeth in a cavernous mouth would hardly seem to encourage a dentist or patient today. Den-Mat also distributes Porcelain Bonding kits for restoring damaged teeth. These are set up like an artist supply case, complete with brush and miniature palette. The company encourages dentists to emulate Rembrandt's artistry as they apply the product.
In another use of the Old Master, Rembrandt Funds® ranked high on the money markets in the 1990s. Given the notoriety of Rembrandt's bankruptcy of 1656, he is an odd choice yet again.