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John Burnet

The high estimation in which I have ever held the works of Rembrandt has been greatly increased by my going through this examination of his various excellencies, and such will ever be the case when the emanations of genius are investigated; like the lustre of precious stones, their luminous colour shines from the centre, not from the surface.

In commencing an account of the life of Rembrandt Van Rhÿn and his works, I feel both a pleasure and a certain degree of confidence, as, from my first using a pencil, his pictures have been my delight and gratification, which have continued to increase through a long life of investigation.



The early pictures, in all ages, either merely indicate the character of bas-reliefs or single statues,—a cold continuity of outline, and an absence of foreshortening.

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.

From the position we are now placed in, surrounded by the accumulated talent of many centuries, it is easy to take a retrospective view of the progress of art; and it is only by so doing that we can arrive at a just estimate of the great artists who advanced it beyond the age in which they lived, and this seems mainly to have been achieved by a close observance of nature.

This is the most finished and perfect of all the etchings of Rembrandt; and as it was done expressly for his friend and patron, we can easily imagine that the painter exerted himself to the utmost, so as to render it worthy of the subject. I have been at some trouble to get an account of the family of Jan Six, but have gleaned little from those books connected with the history of Holland. During the war with England, in the reign of Charles the Second, he was Secretary of State to the City of Amsterdam, and his family was afterwards connected with some of their most celebrated men.

Perhaps, if we can comprehend a species of coloured chiaro-scuro, or the addition of colour to the broad and soft principles of light and shade, we shall be able to form a clear perception of the effects of Rembrandt's colouring.

The landscapes by Rembrandt, unhappily few in number, possess the strong mark of truth for which his works are so strikingly fascinating. They are chiefly small, the largest not exceeding three feet. One of his best is in the collection of the Marquis of Lansdowne, representing a mill seen under the influence of an uncertain twilight; the warm light of the western sky sheds its lustre on the sails of the mill, which stands on high ground; but the other portions of the picture are of dark half-tint, except a reflection of the light on the water towards the foreground.

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