creditors. complicating still further for posterity the task ofseparating genuine Rembrandts from fakes.

Aristotle. so thorough and correct in drawing his own will. had to wonder occasionally what went on in the mind of the notary who had assisted Saskia van Uylenburgh with hers.

But had she not switched her legacy to 'l‘itus. neither father nor son. as it turned out. would have had anything left after Rembrandt filed formally for bankruptcy.

Aristotle could hear. ofcourse. after Rembrandt gave him an ear— and then to his enormous surprise and glee. adorned it with an earring whose worth. were it fabricated of real gold instead ofsimulated with paint. would have been more than nominal in the jewelry markets of the city. And Aristotle heard enough to understand that the artist creating him had more on his mind than completing this particular canvas for Don Antonio Ruffo and the several other paintings in the studio on which he was also working. Rembrandt would turn away abruptly from one painting to another in spells of fatigue or boredom. or impulsively in bursts of renewed inspiration. or while waiting for paint to dry on some while going ahead with a different one.

Often he would not wait for paint to dry but would intently make up his mind to drag new paint on a brush almost dry through areas still soft. to scumble the texture ofthe surface with more impasto and enrich with variegation the reflective surfaces of the different pigments.

Rembrandt‘s best years were behind him and his best paintings were ahead. ofwhich the Aristotle. we now know. would be among the first in the flow ofstartling masterpieces with which the last sad decades of his life were crowned.

He did his most successful work while living like a failure. and his melancholy anxiety over money began to filter regularly into the expressions of the faces he painted. even those of Aristotle and Homer.

‘Why do all your people look so sad now‘." inquired the tall man modeling for Aristotle.

‘They worry.‘

‘What do they worry about'?‘

‘Money.’ said the artist.

But that kind of tremulous solemnity was absent from his own face in the domineering self-portrait of 1652 on the opposite side of the attic. in which Rembrandt stood upright in his working tunic with his hands on his hips and appears defiant and invincible today to any onlooker who dares meet his eyes in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Pensive torment he reserved for his paintings ofothers.

It is mildly ironic that it was not until 1936 that this distinguished painting of Aristotle was given the name by which we know it now.

Not until 1917. one year after the Ruffo archives were opened. could

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the work be positively identified as the one commissioned from Rembrandt by Don Antonio Ruffo in 1652 and the man in it authenticated as Aristotle.

There is nothing in papers anywhere that we know ofto verify that the bust is Homer.

It is ironic too that one of the best of Rembrandt‘s worst paintings was to become his most famous and the one for which he is praised most widely.

This painting is an outdoor group portrait in daytime showing eighteen armed members of the civic military company ofCaptain Frans Banning Cocq moving forward into a glaring patch ofyellow sunlight.

It is called The Nightwatch.

The desire ofsome men for immortality. as Plato says. finds expression in doing things that will cause them to be remembered with favor by succeeding generations. With Egyptian royalty it could occasionally be a pyramid. With Americans it sometimes takes the form ofa museum. With the Dutch it was staid protraits. usually in black. of figures who were dignified. stern. and substantial.

Of the eighteen gentlemen who had paid one hundred guilders each for the privilege of being included in the Rembrandt painting The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq. we can guess that at least sixteen could have had grounds for dissatisfaction.

They had subscribed to an official group portrait of the kind most familiar throughout the city. one in which the figures are as formal as playing cards and the face ofeach sitter is large and bright and instantly noticed and recognized.

What they got was a picture of embarrassing theatricality in which they are costumed like actors and are as busy as workmen. Their faces are small. turned. obstructed. or in shadows. Even the two central officers striding into the foreground. Captain Frans Banning Cocq himself and his lieutenant. William van Ruytenburch. are subordinated too much to the wishes of the artist. according to one contemporary critic. who predicted. nevertheless. that the picture would survive its competitors.

The Nightwatch survives.

It is the work by which Rembrandt‘s genius as an artist is most generally verified and. even by baroque standards. is absolutely awful in almost every pertinent respect. including the conception of the artist in his dramatic break with tradition. The colors are garish. the poses operatic. The Chiaroscuro is diffuse. the accents dissipated. Caravaggio would have turned in his grave had he been alive to see it.

The painting is the most popular single attraction in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

In 1915 a shoemaker. unable to find work. cut a square out of Lieutenant van Ruytenburch‘s right boot

Experts restored the canvas by

repentant shoemaker to do the job free was declined by authorities.

And in 1975. a former schoolteacher assaulted the lower section of the canvas with a serrated bread knife taken from the downtown Amsterdam restaurant in which he had just eaten lunch. making vertical cuts in the bodies of Captain Banning Cocq and Lieutenant van Ruytenburch. The painting was slashed in a dozen places. On the right leg ofthe captain. a strip ofcanvas twelve by two and a half inches was ripped away. The attacker told bystanders he had been sent by the Lord.

‘I was ordered to do it.‘ the schoolteacher is quoted as saying. ‘I had to do it.‘ Newspapers related a history of mental illness.

A decade later the schoolteacher died by his own hand.

A description of the damage to the painting reads like a coroner‘s report. The painting was cut twelve times with a knife and from the nature of the damage it was deduced that the stabs and cuts were inflicted with great force. Probably as a result of the force. the blade of the knife was bent slightly to the left. some of the cuts being pressed obliquely inward and all the cut edges being frayed. In the area of Banning Cocq‘s breeches a triangular piece was cut out and fell offthe painting to the floor.

repairing the boot. The offer by the

The breeches were mended by a tailor from Leiden and the rest of the damage was repaired by professional art restorers of highest caliber.

To this day. there are superstitious covens in abandoned small churches in Amsterdam convinced the vandal was the reincarnation of one of the discontented musketeers who paid one hundred guilders to be memorialized with dignity and found himself reduced to a detail in oil paint in a garish illustration that could have served as a poster for a comic Operetta.

There are others who say it was Rembrandt.

Saskia died in that year of The Nightwatch . 1642. and Rembrandt painted her features on the gamboling little girl who is darting through the crowd from left to right with her face illuminated. She died at thirty.

It probably is no more than coincidence that the year in which Rembrandt lost his wife was the one in which his fortunes took their downward turn. and biographers do not assert there was anything more.

(C) 1988 by Joseph Heller. Extract from Picture This to be published 17 October 1988 (Macmillan£12.95).




to the QUEEN’S HALL on Friday let October at 6.45pm

Tickets £2.75 (£1.75 cones) from: Waterstones Bookshop, 114—116 George Street, Edinburgh; Central Library, George IV Bridge; Queen’s Hall Box Office

The List 14 27 October 1988 55