Lionello Puppi’s fine short work on Rembrandt was well worth the re-reading—after an impossible interval of 15 years. Aside from Rembrandt’s indisputable greatness, I am additionally drawn to him because he was born in the same town as I, Leiden, and studied, in Amsterdam, under Pieter Lastman, said to be “the most influential Dutch painter of the time,” and who greatly admired the Italian Caravaggio, one of the profound influences of my book, Caravaggio`s Dagger.
Rembrandt’s progressive development of technique became a constant “part of a dialogue in which light and shade interpenetrate and integrate with each other,” and the firmness of this constancy derived from his choice to have it spring “from the spirit of artisan morality — of ‘honour,’ as Rembrandt himself expressed it.” This pertinacity illuminates Rembrandt’s statement that a work of art, such as a painting “is to be considered finished when the artist has said all he had to say.” And, in this saying, there does not exist “a sense of dissociation between the ‘here and now’ and the ‘beyond’, with the necessity for choice and the anguish such a distinction entails.”
There is a parallel here to “Spinoza’s conception of God as the cause of all things, a cause which is not external to them, but lies within, so that all things are merely modifications of the substance of God.” Hence, the parallel goes beyond the concept of tragedy that “affirms man’s powerlessness to create on earth a life which is valid,” to the capability “to express … the sense of individual destiny, seen as a whole, from the beginning to the end” of any individual. And, therefore, profoundly, that death is “a complementary aspect of life, containing its ultimate significance and setting the seal upon it.”
In all this, Rembrandt “methodically continued to seek inspiration in the inexhaustible world around him and to give form to the visions of the imagination,” though, having been able to maintain his position in the “middle-class, liberal society of Holland,” the same society “crushed him as soon as he showed himself to be firm in his purpose.”