Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age, to run in the Museum of Fine Arts from 1 November, offers the Hungarian public its first chance to see such a comprehensive exhibition of the Dutch art of the 1600s, one of the golden ages of European culture.
The exhibition is built around Rembrandt, the greatest master of the period, by whom 20 masterpieces will be on display. It will showcase over 170 works by some 100 painters, of which 40 originate from the Museum of Fine Arts’ rich Dutch collection. The other 130 will be contributed by private and public collections.
Mounted in cooperation with the National Museum of Stockholm, the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam and the Kremer Collection, the most important loaning institutions include these three plus the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan in New York, the Uffizi in Florence and the Prado in Madrid.
In addition to the significant number of works by Rembrandt there will be three works by Vermeer.
The exhibition sees the Museum of Fine Arts continuing the series begun in 2006 linked to its significant collections. Following the 2006 El Greco, Velázquez, Goya; the 2008 Golden Age of the Medici; the 2009 Botticelli to Titian and the 2013 Caravaggio to Canaletto, Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age will showcase the 17th-century material of the museum’s Dutch collection: with its 500 paintings, it ranks among the first five European collections outside the Netherlands.
The show is divided into seven main chapters. The first presents historical background and commences with pictures by Hendrick Vroom and Willem van de Velde the Elder immortalising battles at sea, where the battles waged for independence and later the Dutch Republic becoming a world power were decided.
The second part is devoted to portrait painting with likenesses of self-assured wealthy middle-class citizens, as well as group pictures of the leaders of various associations, and representative or intimate portraits of married couples and families.
The third chapter comprises a diverse selection of pictures with the theme of prosperity and life’s pleasures. Ornate pomp still-lifes, known as “pronkstilleven”, by Pieter Claesz, Willem Heda, Abraham van Beijeren and Willem Kalf show the accumulated wealth, impressing viewers by picturesque depictions of expensive vessels, fruits and flowers.
The fourth section deals with religion. The Protestant Church forbade the use of “carved images” in their churches and called upon the faithful to study directly from Scripture, so illustrations of stories from the Old and New Testament were given a place on the walls of homes. Since Catholics could practise their religion, altar pictures were also made, with their forms preserving monumentality and festivity, which influenced works devoted to domestic piety. The humanisation of biblical themes was realised in Rembrandt’s works and exerted a wide-ranging influence.
The fifth section focuses on Rembrandt and his influence upon his contemporaries. Works by the giant of Dutch painting include his first known painting as well as his last picture. His earliest painting titled “The Glasses Salesman”, executed in 1623, arrives from the town of his birth, Leiden (Museum de Lakenhal), while the composition regarded as his last, a self-portrait, probably completed in the year of his death in 1669, is loaned by the Uffizi in Florence. The exhibition showcases several of the master’s self-portraits, from Munich, Paris and London.
The sixth chapter features a theme of city life, which bore great importance to Dutch artists, and displays three significant pieces from Vermeer’s oeuvre of merely 38 paintings. The Geographer” is a loan from Frankfurt, “The Astronomer” from the Louvre, and “The Allegory of the Catholic Faith” from the New York Metropolitan Museum.
The exhibition concludes with landscapes, which form an important part of the Museum of Fine Arts’ collection. It closes in February and will be the last large-scale exhibition before renovation work next spring will see the museum temporarily close.