Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Related post B Proper 20 Art for September 23, 2012
In the Hundred Guilder Print, Rembrandt has combined several subjects taken from the nineteenth chapter of Mathew into a composite image. As a result it is known by several titles. Among them are: Little Children Being Brought to Jesus, Christ Healing the Sick, and Christ Preaching. In Rembrandt’s lifetime it was known famously as the “Hundred Guilder Print” and it continues to be known by that title today. As a masterpiece, it was first sold for a hundred guilder; a very high price at the time.
Mathew’s account tells of Jesus departing Galilee and going to Judea where multitudes followed him; many were healed. While he was there, Pharisees came and he answered their questions. When mothers brought their children to him to be blessed, the disciples rebuked them but Jesus said: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” A young rich man asked Jesus what he must do to enter heaven and was told to first give all of his possessions to the poor and then, “follow me.” Jesus noted it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. References to all of these subjects were combined in Rembrandt’s print.
In the center of this etching, Jesus is standing as he speaks to the crowd that surrounds him. At the far upper left a group of Pharisees are debating among themselves and to the right, the old and sick are trying to get closer to Jesus; one of them was brought in on a wheelbarrow. Others are coming in from the right as Peter (behind the pleading woman whose shadow is cast on Jesus’ robe) stretches out his arm to indicate there are too many people in the crowded space already. The rich man has returned to his camel (in the doorway); he is leaving because he cannot give up his possessions. In the central area are a variety of people of humble origins and differing needs. A woman with a child in her arms approaches Jesus (her foot is on the raised area on which Jesus is standing). Another woman (lower left) is holding her child’s hand as he reaches toward Jesus. The child’s dog is nearby. In this etching, Rembrandt demonstrates his remarkable ability to integrate and balance diverse subjects and to unify them in a single composition; the print is a superb example of his genius.
Etching: An etching is made from a copper or zinc plate that has been covered with liquid asphaltum (an acid resistant ground). The artist draws an image on the plate with a scriber but scratches only through the asphaltum surface to expose the plate. The prepared plate is placed in an acid solution that eats into it and creates fine shallow grooves in the areas that have been exposed. The asphaltum then is removed, ink is pressed into the grooves, and the surface of the plate is wiped clean. A slightly moistened paper is placed over it and it is run through a press. The pressure pushes the paper against the ink and, as the paper is pulled away from the plate, it lifts the ink out of the grooves and reveals the image (in reverse).
Intaglio (Italian, from intagliare – to engrave): This term is used for a family of prints in which the ink is held in grooves beneath the surface of a plate. In an etching, acid is used to create the grooves. When making an engraving, the artist removes the metal directly with a burin. When making a drypoint, the grooves are created by scratching with pressure into the surface of a plate (this makes a groove but leaves a burr). Etchings, engravings, and drypoints are all intaglios. Although the Hundred Guilder Print is primarily an etching, it was easier for Rembrandt to use drypoint and engraving techniques when touching up and refining some areas of the plate after it was etched.
© 2012 Hovak Najarian
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