COMPOSITION.

To arrive at a true knowledge of the inventions and compositions of Rembrandt, it is necessary, in the first instance, to examine those of Albert Durer, the Leonardo da Vinci of Germany. The inventions of this extraordinary man are replete with the finest feelings of art, notwithstanding the Gothic dryness and fantastic forms of his figures. The folds of his draperies are more like creased pieces of paper than cloth, and his representation of the naked is either bloated and coarse, or dry and meagre. His backgrounds have all the extravagant characteristics of a German romance, and are totally destitute of aërial perspective; yet, with the exception of the character of the people and scenery of Nuremburg, he is not more extravagant in his forms than the founder of the Florentine school, and had he been educated in Italy, he in all probability would have rivalled Raffaelle in the purity of his design. In his journal, which he kept when he travelled into the Netherlands, he mentions some prints he sent to Rome, in exchange for those he expected in return, and it is mentioned that Raffaelle admired his works highly. The multitude of his engravings, both on copper and wood, which were spread over Germany, influenced, in a great degree, the style of composition of those artists who came after him, and accordingly we see many points of coincidence in the compositions of Rembrandt. A century, however, had opened up a greater insight into the mysteries of painting than either Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Durer ever thought of; one alone,—viz. aërial perspective, seems to mark the line between the ancient and modern school; for though Durer invented several instruments for perfecting lineal perspective, his works exhibit no attempt at giving the indistinctness of distant objects. To Rubens, Germany and Holland were indebted for this essential part of the art, so necessary to a true representation of Nature. This great genius, in his contemplation of the works of Titian and others, both at Venice and in Madrid, soon emancipated the art of his country from the Gothic hardness of Lucas Cranach, Van Eyck, and Albert Durer; but notwithstanding his taste and knowledge of what constituted the higher qualities of the Italian school, the irregular combinations and multitudinous assemblage of figures found in the early German compositions remained with him to the last. His works are like a melodrama, filled with actors who have no settled action or expression allotted them, while in the works of Raffaelle, and other great composers, the persons introduced are limited to the smallest number necessary to explain the story. This condensing of the interest, if I may use the expression, was borrowed originally from the Greeks, of whose sculptures the Romans availed themselves to a great degree. On the other hand, this looseness of arrangement, and what may be termed ornamental, not only spread through Germany, but infected the schools of Venice; witness the works of Tintoret and Paul Veronese, in which the expression of the countenance absolutely goes for nothing, and the whole arrangement is drawn out in a picturesque point of view, merely to amuse and gratify the eye of the spectator.

Now, with all these infectious examples before him, Rembrandt has done much to concentrate the action, and reduce the number drawn out on the canvas to the mere personages who figure in the history. Witness his "Salutation of the Virgin," in the Marquis of Westminster's collection, which is evidently engendered from the idea contained in the design of Albert Durer. His strict application to nature, while it enabled him to destroy the unmeaning combinations of his predecessors, led him into many errors, by the simple fact of drawing from the people in his presence. But are not others chargeable with some incongruities? Are the Madonnas of Murillo anything but a transcript of the women of Andalusia? The women of Venice figure in the historical compositions of Titian and Paul Veronese, and the Fornarina of Raffaelle is present in his most sacred subjects; those, therefore, who accuse Rembrandt of vulgarity of form, might with equal justice draw an invidious comparison between classic Italian and high Dutch. In many of his compositions he has embodied the highest feeling and sentiment, and in his study of natural simplicity approaches Raffaelle nearer than any of the Flemish or Dutch painters. Of course, as a colourist and master of light and shade, he is all powerful; but I allude, at present, to the mere conception and embodying of his subjects on this head.

Fuseli says,—"Rembrandt was, in my opinion, a genius of the first class in whatever relates not to form. In spite of the most portentous deformity, and without considering the spell of his chiaro-scuro, such were his powers of nature, such the grandeur, pathos, or simplicity of his composition, from the most elevated or extensive arrangement to the meanest and most homely, that the best cultivated eye, the purest sensibility, and the most refined taste, dwell on them equally enthralled. Shakspere alone excepted, no one combined with so much transcendent excellence so many, in all other men unpardonable, faults,—and reconciled us to them. He possessed the full empire of light and shade, and of all the tints that float between them; he tinged his pencil with equal success in the cool of dawn, in the noon-day ray, in the livid flash, in evanescent twilight, and rendered darkness visible. Though made to bend a steadfast eye on the bolder phenomena of nature, yet he knew how to follow her into her calmest abodes, gave interest to insipidity and baldness, and plucked a flower in every desert. None ever, like Rembrandt, knew how to improve an accident into a beauty, or give importance to a trifle. If ever he had a master, he had no followers; Holland was not made to comprehend his power."