This is an ambitious exhibition presenting for the first time an overview of the image of the “Orient” in the 17th century Netherlands. It pinpoints the moment when the nascent Dutch Republic played a key role as the source for paintings, prints, maps and publishing in Europe. As a result of contact with the people and objects of the Middle East and Asia through international trade but also war, the influence of foreign cultures inspired Dutch artists to create novel imagery, in history scenes, portraits and still lifes.
Divided into ten sections, the exhibition is built on a core selection of works by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, including self-portraits dressed in exotic costumes, his copies of Mughal miniatures, and prints on Japanese paper. Works by Rembrandt’s colleagues and students, such as Jan Lievens, Ferdinand Bol, Pieter de Grebber, Govert Flink, Monogrammist I.S. are also presented to showcase the impact of the intercultural exchange.
We asked Gary Schwartz what he thought was a surprising inclusion to the exhibition. His pick was An Artist of Antiquity by Johannes van Swinderen (1594-1636) lent by the Rijksmuseum. The sitter is depicted in an Ottoman-style turban decorated with an ornamental clasp and a feathered egret plume – a symbol of prestige and commonly featured for a distinctly Oriental look. In a more fanciful manner, he is draped in layers of scarves and wraps. The painting is dated to around 1627 based on stylistic similarities with the little-known artist’s commission for the town hall of his native Zurphen (50km northeast of Nijmegen). If indeed it were a self-portrait, the painting would be a prototype for Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait in Oriental Attire with Poodle (1631-33). The still-life details are curiously sophisticated. Among the traditional vanitas motifs, Seneca, author of De brevitate vitae, is referenced in an unusual sketch that recalls the famous ancient statue, which Rubens had reinterpreted a decade or so earlier in Death of Seneca (ca. 1612-13; Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
Organized in partnership between the Kunstmuseum Basel and Museum Barberini, Potsdam, Rembrandt’s Orient held onto the dates for the Basel stop (31 Oct 2020 – 14 Feb 2021) which was originally going to come after Potsdam (now opening 13 Mar 2021). It is curated by Bodo Brinkmann and Gary Schwartz. ❖