Free Seminar at the British Museum in London DATE TO BE CONFIRMED - APRIL 2020

In:  Duveen Gallery (Elgin Marbles) British Museum, at the bottom of the steps leading to the East Pediment

at: 11.00  and 14.00 APRIL 2020 - DATE TO BE CONFIRMED DURING FIRST HALF OF APRIL.  CONTACT NIGEL TO EXPRESS INTEREST.  Email:   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Lunch at the Court Café in the Great Court at 12.30

It is highly probable that the west pediment of The Parthenon is a Roman reproduction of the original Greek Classical work.   The seminar will be led by Nigel Konstam who published his discovery of two industrial sized chimneys used by Phidias for melting bronze in The Oxford Journal of Archaeology in 2002. One chimney is on the Acropolis rock only 150m  down-wind from The Parthenon. Konstam believes that this chimney was the source of the prolonged pollution that invaded The Parthenon long before the damage caused by the Venetian bombardment of 1687; that pollution would have been short lived. The black is deeply embedded in the stone and is still very evident on the east pediment but not on the west. Yet the west pediment should have received more damage being closest to the chimney; hence the need for a seminar.   The soot is still obvious today after many attempts to clean the sculptures.

The seminar will assemble in the Duveen Gallery (Elgin Marbles)  and visit the evidence. It is hoped that any doubters will attend and debate with Konstam in front of the evidence.   Afterwards, if there is time and interest we will proceed to room 70 where Konstam will explain his geometrical analysis of the bust of Hadrian and how three dimensional geometry developed through copying sculpture, and  has since influenced the better part of European drawing - with examples from Holbein, Rembrandt and Degas. (This is the subject of chapters 2 & 9 of the ebook)

Nigel Konstam is available as tutor in sculpture, drawing and Alternative Art History at The Verrocchio Arts Centre, near Siena, Tuscany.


The word imagination shimmers in the mind along with 'inspiration' on a higher level than invention, construction or observation. In the Renaissance mind and earlier the true artists were the poets. Painters and sculptors suffered under the lesser designation as artisans/craftsmen. Unrecognised as artists because they were simple copyists, therefore without imagination. Vasari and his artist subjects worked hard to change this by equating their efforts with the imagination of the poet. Thanks to their efforts the visual arts now seem to top the charts as far as prices paid for our products are concerned. But there is a down side.

In the arts the word has come to mean working without reference to nature. So the expectation of imagination from the visual arts has inadvertently come to mean fantasy: to out weigh observation. Whereas what we have actually admired in the past is the vivid observation of nature in which imagination enters as much and as little as in daily life. The patches of light that come to our retina have to be interpreted by the brain. They are recognised usually in spite of inadequate data.

Every act of recognition requires memories and imagination. When I look at the chair beside my bed I see patches of dark brown and lighter brown light. The colour relationships remind me of corduroy and my memory of casting aside my trousers allows me to recognise the patches of light as my trousers but there is no evidence in the shapes I see that these are indeed trousers. It is the memory of light on corduroy that has given the clue to my deduction. Every act of recognition could be described as a discovery because we need imagination for the simplest acts that allow us to find our way in the world. Imagination is not rare it is an every day necessity.

When Copernicus discovered that the earth was circling the sun he was using his imagination to see the orbits from outer space. That discovery has shaken the world so badly that had he advertised it he would probably have been burnt at the stake. There is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between my finding of my trousers and Copernicus' vision based on data that was thousands of years old. His was the greatest leap of the imagination made by Man. It has reduced our status from the centre of the universe to a tiny speck in a probable multiverse. The imagination has grown in status based on Copernicus and his like but it is sensible to regard it also as normal and everyday. We need to distinguish between the low flights of fancy and the high flights of imagination.

The significance of a discovery needs to be the measure of its importance. We need to take some of the unreasonable shine from the word. Imagination can be vastly important or everyday insignificant. I fear that art historians have been over impressed by Vasari's arguments and have illogically reasoned that as Rembrandt is undoubtedly exceptional he must therefore have worked from imagination.  Alas. this is hopelessly wide of the mark. Yes Rembrandt possessed a wonderful imaginative empathy with his subjects but he observed them in reality. The scholars have imposed on a master of immeasurable importance, one who consistently claimed to work from observation “anything else was worthless in his eyes”-  a method of work that does not fit at all. To make him fit his new work description they have had to discard more than half his genuine works. When Rembrandt is obliged to work by construction, with flying angels for instance, he makes sure that we do not take him seriously. (Link to flying angels)

 It is indeed surprising that so many scholars have subscribed to the absurd idea of  his imaginative construction for so long in the face of so much contrary evidence, and while doing immeasurable harm.  My article on Rembrandt's use of mirrors (Burlington Feb.1977) should have dispelled any remaining doubts about the unanimous testimony of Rembrandt's contemporaries in this respect. Changing entrenched beliefs requires much patience – as Max Plank observed “science advances funeral by funeral”. The damage to Rembrandt and therefore to art continues unabated. At Harvard the only time we came near to debating the issue – I would claim to have won hands down but clearly the scholars took a different view because they have brushed aside my evidence as if it did not exist. There is no evidence for their view other than the fact that many scholars have accepted it unquestioningly for nearly one hundred years!



This history may have shocked you, it has shocked many who have visited my museum near Siena. It is clear that art historians are not doing the job we expect of them. They behave more like medieval theologians defending their faith than historians seeking the truth according to the evidence. Figurative artists in Britain are used to being described as “the wrong kind of artists”. I am trying to persuade you that art historians are on the whole - the wrong kind of people to dictate the course of art. Very much the wrong kind of people to decide who Rembrandt was: what works are his and which should be cast aside. Because of Rembrandt's colossal status these misconceptions have distorted the course of art for a century.

By the end of the 19thC it became clear that the artists practicing observation were much better critics of art than were the theoreticians. This embarrassing situation for the critics has been successfully side-stepped in modern times by the total eclipse of observed art from modern media and museums where theorists rule supreme. This situation has persisted for so long that I doubt there is a theoretician left and ever fewer modern artists who have anything useful to say about the study of the human figure; the most demanding of all subjects. Though there are still many artists who regard observation as their primary task, none have been accorded the prestige of the clowns and daubers promoted by the theorists. We have been in this position so long that few can remember those blessed epochs when artists' reputations depended on the opinion of their peers not on the critics' theories.

Art has been a distinguishing characteristic of mankind for over 40,000 years. If we are to understand ourselves the history of art matters. It matters to us all, not just artists or art historians. Art has been highly valued in the past because it has played an important role in our perception of the world about us. What we call fine art examines our sensations and tries to make sense of them. Art has been one of the chief ways in which we evaluate a civilization and for good reason.

 We can probably agree that having left art historians in charge of “encouraging the arts” the results are disappointing if not downright disgraceful. It is surely time for a root and branch revision of where we want to go with art.

 I think we can learn from my experience that art history will not voluntarily reform itself. Meeting them one by one art historians seem civilized people but as an organization they coalesce in defense of their group failures and that usually means a barricade of silence in the face of criticism; no discussion and certainly no change of mind.

Success in art depends on reputation and reputation today depends entirely on promotion in the media rather than talent or useful ideas. Many artists have succumbed to the rewards of conforming to the requirements of The Tate Gallery's “the right kind of artist”. They win the prizes get the exhibitions and dominate the reviews. They finally get bought by the museums; in terms of status and an ability to earn a living from their art, it will be found that the majority of those who have become rich through their art in Britain are darlings of the Arts Council & Tate Gallery; the rest have been promoted by Sacchi, the advertiser, master of promotion. Very few make it without this backing. This is not the way to promote civilization. Even at the lower income level of teaching art, it is those that conform to modernist ideas who are rewarded. State funded art schools in Britain are uniformly ignoring traditional methods of teaching observation. Even craft teaching has suffered as a result.

Previous experience shows that the rebels against the status quo – the Impressionists, The Salon des Refuse, Cezanne, VanGogh etc. were fighting the accepted ideas of their time. But today's  rebels against tradition do so ironically with heavy government backing; our taxes supporting them. Naturally, the favoured few can be relied upon to support this madhouse that is their paymaster and protector. Many artists who are ignored by the critics are more talented and deserving than the so called “avantgard” as defined by the “experts”.

At present there is no effective way in which common sense can be brought to bear on the decisions of the establishment art hierarchy. They have noted that the rebels of yesteryear were regarded as mad and so have been pursuing a policy of promoting the outrageous. They have done this for so long that most normal people feel that they know nothing about art. Not only the man in the street but also those in government feel they have not the knowledge to intervene. They reason there must be something special in modern art if such high prices are paid for it. But art patronage has taken the place of roulette or racing for excitement. Without the control of a Jockey Club it naturally attracts the spinners and fraudsters. We passively accept the art of our times. We leave it in the hands of the unworthy who regale us with nonsensical “artbollocks” while enriching themselves and making the teaching of art all but impossible. This is certainly not the way towards a more civilized, united society.


 There is a way forward. My recommendation is that we put artists back in charge of visual culture. There are many schools of thought in the arts. They scarcely speak to one another but most individuals could be inducted into one of a few separate schools. Abstract (hard and soft edge) Fantasy & Performance, Traditional Naturalists, Expressionist & Realist, for the purpose of exhibiting and propaganda..

Those who observe from nature do not get a chance under the present system. The establishment now regard the study of nature as mere imitation and therefore not “creative”. This attitude seems to me to be deeply flawed because it fails to recognise that every act of perception is necessarily creative:  we are obliged to construct our world view from the patchy collection of sensations that come our way. It is the recognition of this central handicap of the human condition that the teaching of art should address. It is uniquely qualified to do so. Not that drawing can cure it but it can raise our awareness of the problem. The visual arts are constantly leaping the gap between our concepts and the reality they represent. I would argue that this is their most valuable role: the visual arts can make us aware of the richness of nature and the relative poverty of our conceptions. An artist's first efforts often need to be modified later with a fresh eye. These adjustments and corrections are a method of self-education for artists. The practice of art can rekindle the sensation that gave rise to a inadequate concept and increase its relevance. The progress of art used to be measured in these terms. We must learn again to distinguish between novelty and originality.

Left to themselves artists will certainly disagree. Therefore my proposal is to let each school of thought have a year or two to spend government money in turn. They would give the prizes and put on public shows from which they could make purchases for the state museums and ideally have their own separate schools to teach their particular approach. Soon critics would emerge as advocates for each separate school and the public could see there is much more choice available in the arts. It would be fairer and clearer and might therefore find the layman enthusiastic for the arts again. The results could not possibly be worse than the present state of art and it might well provide just the stimulus that has died in the hands of inadequate experts and cynical investment patrons who lack judgement. It is certainly time for a change.


Videos on Vermeer by Nigel Konstam:

Part 1

Part 2 with Anne Shingleton

Vermeer's use of mirrors

“Vermeer's Camera” by Philip Steadman, published by Oxford University Press in 2001 has become generally accepted by the art historical establishment. The case for the use of the camera obscura (a mechanism that projects an image of reality onto a surface) is well argued but it fails as an explanation because it does not account  for the unique quality of Vermeer’s painting. Vermeer is the great master of light. No other painter was able to mix colour and tone with such precision that it went down on the canvas almost without modification. He has a unique technical perfection in painting light, including light out of focus.

 The intensity of natural light is so much greater than the range offered by the artist’s pallet that the relationships cannot be copied, they have to be reduced proportionately.  Normally, this is done by  guess-work and the guesses have to add up to a believable whole. Vermeer guessed better than any other master, what was his secret?
Steadman suggests an elaborate system of opening and closing the window shutters which is thoroughly impractical. Not only would ones eyes have to adjust to the marked changes in the level of light, the image thrown by even a modern lens would prove inadequate to paint from. We can assume the lenses available to Vermeer were well below the quality needed for his immaculate observation. The small dim image obtained from a 17thC camera obscura is the first objection. The size of studio necessary to use one is a second and clearer reason for dismissing the camera obscura as the main tool of Vermeer.

There is no doubt in my mind that he did used the camera obscura because both Wheelock and Steadman both point to a number of instances where he observes light out of focus. It was this which interested Vermeer about the camera. The human eye subconsciously adapts focus, unfocused light can only be observed with a lens.

Steadman is the first to admit that the perspectival complexities can equally well be pinned down by other means than the camera obscura. But as the camera is nearly useless for colour and tone it is strange that Steadman is so insistent that this was the apparatus used. I am not concerned with his method for the drawing, which could have been the camera obscura. I am concerned with how he judged colour and tone.

This objection has now been diminished somewhat by “Tim's Vermeer”. Tim Jennison has invented or reinvented a very simple apparatus that would have enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures if he had had one. But it was unknown before Tim. The explanation is best followed in a recent video in which Tim explains and demonstrates the effectiveness of his apparatus. He uses a concave mirror to concentrate the light.

 It also explains how he could have seen minute details of decoration on a harpsichord at a considerable distance. This increases the chances of the camera obscura being one of Vermeer's secret weapons if aided by Tim's apparatus; the camera obscura becomes unlikely but possible again.

I published an article (The Artist Magazine UK version Jan. 1980) showing how useful two 17thC mirrors would have been for the judgement of colour and tone for which Vermeer is rightly revered. Taking his painting “ Ars Pictoria” (Vienna) as a starting point in which we see the figure of the artist from the back, I deduced that he must have used two mirrors. By experiment I further discovered that two mirrors, a small one one his easel and a larger one behind him was his technique for the great majority of his paintings. The evidence for this is his frequent use of drapery in the bottom left or right hand corner of the painting where the direct reflection of the artist's face would have blotted out other subject matter and the equally frequent appearance  of a curtain that was normally used in his time to cover a mirror when it was not in use (because light causes the silver to turn black). These two features occur in a good number of Vermeer paintings. Furthermore, “Ars Pictoria” held a special place in Vermeer's opus: he never sold it and it is the biggest of his paintings. I interpret it as a cryptic description of his painting technique. What two mirrors cannot do unaided is read maps or minute decoration at 10 foot distance. Tim's apparatus makes this possible.

The particularly useful thing about 17th C mirrors is that being backed with silver rather than mercury they quickly deteriorate, loosing up to 30% of their light. So bouncing light  between two 17th C mirrors is a direct way of  reducing the light, thus being able to match  the light of nature with the artists’ colours. One simply matches by holding up the colour mixture on the pallet knife next to the colour required in the mirror on the easel.

 Interestingly, the image on the easel mirror is very nearly the same as the actual scene to Vermeer’s left because by reversal twice one returns to that seen directly, thus giving considerable advantage over the camera obscura which turns the image upside down. By fixing one’s eye-point one can also trace the perspective on the glass and this can be transferred to the canvas quite satisfactorily.

On my second point, Steadman’s arrangement requires a very large studio (6.5m long), whereas my two mirrors requires no more than a studio just over 3m in depth. The artist in the painting is sitting inside the picture space. Vermeer is unlikely to have been able to afford Steadman’s studio. He paid his baker with a painting and died in debt. Imagine the cost of heating such a studio in winter in Holland. Is there really sufficient length in Vermeers house for such a studio? I cannot abandon my theory in spite of Tim's exciting new evidence because there is too much direct evidence in the pictures themselves in favour of my theory.

 Interestingly Steadman cannot explain the two Vermeers that are the foundation of my research: “Ars Pictoria” and equally important “The Love Letter” in which the observer at first feels he is looking through a doorway but on closer inspection the doorway proves to be a reflection in the very back mirror that I had proposed. One can distinguish that for two reasons:
1. the frame at the right is a mirror frame not a door-frame, nor is there any indication of the thickness of the wall that would be seen to divide the two rooms if it was indeed a doorway.
2. Nor has the foreground this side of the supposed door any logical relation to the space of the room beyond (because it is a skewed reflection).
My explanation alone makes these faults understandable.

There are three videos under my name on YouTube. Two dealing with an experiment I made with Anne Shinglton. The third deals with the size of Vermeer's studio. Tim was a newcomer to the debate. The film “Tim's Vermeer” in which Tim, a scientist, uses a device unknown till he invented it (but using material available in Vermeer's day) has changed my view only somewhat. I have only seen the picture, the result of his experiment, on a tv screen so cannot comment on its quality. The apparatus required immense concentration on minute detail and took Tim 153 days under uniform electric lighting. Vermeer himself  was of course subject to the changing light of nature. Vermeer must have had recourse to judgement of each value in relation to the whole, not Tim's bit by bit approach.
 As a result of this new evidence I no longer dismiss the camera obscura as beyond practical application in producing a painting. Tim's apparatus shows it is feasible, if complicated. His effort, ingenuity and staying power are much to be admired but there are still two objections to his method:
1. Doubts that Vermeer actually had Tim's apparatus and
2. the concentration of light using a concave mirror which makes the camera obscura more plausible in one way must surely make the harmony of tones much more difficult; particularly in Vermeer's conditions of variable daylight.
The two paintings mentioned above which cannot be explained by Steadman and which are the centre pieces of my argument for two mirrors remain very solid evidence.
 There is a sceptic on YouTube who insists that concave mirrors were not available till the 18thC because Newton did not have one for his telescope. But we know that convex mirrors existed well before (c.1400, cut from glass bubbles). One need only surface the other side of the convex glass to get a concave mirror.
It seems to me now that Vermeer may have used both methods in combination. We have made progress but there is still some mystery about Vermeer's actual procedure. Whatever optics he used they were in the interest of his heroic investigation of light. They certainly did not save him trouble.

Illustration Anne Shinglton's version of  “The Art of Painting – Ars Pictoria” using two mirrors for the YouTube video.  See Video Vermeer Part 2 with Nigel Konstam and Anne Shingleton.


Chapter 10. Rembrandt Documents

When we consider Rembrandt's standing among his contemporaries it is remarkable that there should be so little documentary evidence about him.  What there is, is readily available in English translation.  I shall concern myself only with those pieces of evidence which seem to have acquired new significance in the light of my own studies.  

Only seven letters exist in Rembrandt's hand.  They are of a purely business nature and are all addressed to Constantijn Huygens, Secretary of State to the Stadholder Frederick Henry.  The letters all date from early in Rembrandt's career.  Their subject matter includes the delivery of six paintings of The Passion, and the payment for these.  None of the letters gives the least indication of having come from a 'difficult' man: on the contrary, Rembrandt is obsequious, not unduly flustered by non-payment and seems only a little disappointed that His Highness should finally have paid only half the price the painter had proposed.  They are the letters of a man who knows on which side his bread is buttered, but did not always find the will to deliver on time.  He insisted on giving Huygens a large and horrifying painting, The Blinding of Samson against the will of the recipient!

The letters tell us little enough.  It is in the inventory of his belongings that Rembrandt reveals more of himself.  His misfortune is useful for us in that a complete inventory of his possessions was taken at the time of his near bankruptcy in 1656.  By far the largest category was that of works by other artists, of which there were over sixty.  When we add to this the large number of books of engravings, and the drawings and the sculpture, we begin to realise the scale of Rembrandt's remarkable appetite for art.  He seems to have delighted in the works of Adriaen Brouwer (who specialised in scenes from low life).  The works by other contemporaries - his master Lastman; Pinas, reputedly also his teacher; his fellow student Lievens; Seghers, whose etching plates he inherited - seem to reflect his loyalties as a man.  They cannot be taken as a completely reliable guide to his tastes as an artist.  The books of drawings and engravings probably reflect his real interests far more accurately, but with a collector as catholic and voracious as Rembrandt clearly was, chance must have played a part.

He was also a dealer who expected to profit from the resale of some of his collection. Early in his career, Rembrandt became a partner to Hendrick van Uylenburch (his wife, Saskia's uncle) who dealt in pictures, and we cannot be certain which items in his collection were bought simply for resale, as dealer's stock.

Rembrandt had a reputation for rashness.  Balduccini wrote (on the evidence of Bernard Keillh, a Rembrandt student of eight years' standing): "He deserves, however, great praise for his generosity, extravagant though it may have been, for he thought so highly of his art that when similar things were auctioned - especially paintings and drawings by great artists of his own country he raised the initial price so high that there was never a second buyer.   He said he did this in order to raise the status of his profession.  He was also very generous in lending his possessions to other painters whenever they needed them for their work". (Lecaldano, 1973, p.9)

Certain items, however, are an entirely reliable guide; either because of their very number, or because we know that Rembrandt made use of them for two very careful copies. (Mantegna's general approach to drawing bears a very close affinity to Rembrandt's, if one looks beneath the superficial differences of manner.) There were also engravings after Raphael and even a number of original works by him.  Rembrandt had scrapbooks of works of leading Masters of the whole world, including one 'very large, with almost all the works of Titian' (presumably of engravings after Titian).  Item 230 is 'one little child by Michelangelo'.  In all there are some thirty scrapbooks or folders. He may have bought them as stock, like many of his professional contemporaries he dealt in art of all kinds.

Rembrandt clearly venerated the works of many of the great Masters, but not uncritically.  His taste favoured those elements that involved a closer contact with nature; the more florid 'arty' elements clearly provoked his displeasure.  Lord Clark has perceptively contrasted Rembrandt's treatment of the Rape of Ganymede with versions by Michelangelo and Titian.  He says: 'I think Rembrandt was shocked and he was determined that his picture should shock.' (Clark, 1978, p.45)  The point, like that of Rembrandt's Descent from the Cross, was to shock with the contrast between his own 'truth' and the contrived 'art' of others.  Clark continues: 'there is no doubt that Rembrandt's image gains immense power from his struggle against the potent charms of classic art.  It is like one of those blasphemies that precede conversion' (p.47).  My own view is that the blasphemies ceased but that the conversion never came.  The calm of Rembrandt's late paintings is not the unmoved Olympian stability of classical antiquity but a more earthly tranquillity, the result of resignation and old age.  Rembrandt maintained his allegiance to the real world and he remained true to his own experience, but with age his responses to the art of others mellowed.  His youthful work veered between straight competition with Rubens (as seen in the Rape of Proserpine) and self assertive criticism of 'high art'.  

As he matured, the combative element in his character waned.  Consequently his attitude to the art of others became less clear; far from becoming more traditional, I believe that he became quietly certain of his own very individual path.

Rembrandt owned a truly astonishing number of Roman portrait busts, some in plaster copies, but possibly as many as thirty in the stone originals.  Such works were eagerly sought after by collectors in Rembrandt's day, and we know that they commanded a very high price.  A great deal of his capital must have been tied up in them.  His appetite for Roman portraits has sometimes puzzled modern scholars, few of whom share the seventeenth-century enthusiasm for that genre.  I seek to explain this enthusiasm in my syntax DVD

Two books of drawing of sculpture made by Rembrandt from the Antique which are mentioned in the inventory have alas been lost but the abundant evidence for Rembrandt’s debt to Roman portraiture is there, in his work.

The importance of the large collection of plaster casts from life, found among Rembrandt's possessions, has been overlooked.  Hands and heads figure prominently among the baskets full of plaster casts listed in the inventory.  One head is mentioned in the inventory as having been over painted by Rembrandt himself.  Such a head could have been used as a substitute for a live model for a painting.  I believe that such casts were used not only for the purpose of instructing students but also by Rembrandt himself; to help him complete drawings after the models had stopped posing.  Houbraken mentions that it is rare to see in Rembrandt's work a beautifully painted hand.  Houbraken must have been very unlucky in the Rembrandts he knew, but it is true that in Rembrandt's drawings of hands the quality varies greatly. At one moment he seems able to make the most beautifully expressive hand with a few apparently casual strokes of the quill; and yet he is prepared to take the etching of the Woman with the Arrow (Pl.15a) through five changes of state without making any adjustment to a hand - which would cause raised eyebrows if found in the work of a minor artist.  This etching is a late one (1661), completed after the sale of his goods when he would have been deprived of the use of his cast collection.

Quality is a good indication in deciding whether Rembrandt had a hand in front of him as he drew.  It is my belief that the superlative drawing that one often finds in a Rembrandt hand is due to his use of casts at leisure; without the fear of movement and pressure of time which are a part of the experience of drawing from life.  I would urge particular attention to drawings of old male hands spread wide (such as those of Isaac in Pls.20b and 20e) and to the young female hands, slightly cupped as if around a ball, which we see in the Hagar & the Angel.  Both gestures occur frequently and they are nearly always of breathtaking quality in observation and execution. I therefore hypothesise they were drawn from a cast after the model had departed.

Finally, in Rembrandt's collection there is his accumulation of theatrical properties: old clothes, musical instruments, military equipment; all these are mentioned in the inventory and their significance has been overlooked by modern scholarship.  Baldinucci mentions them; Roger de Piles, writing in 1699, is explicit enough in telling us the use Rembrandt made of them: 'he himself said that his art was the imitation of nature and, since this included everything, he collected ancient suits of armour, ancient musical instruments, old cloths and a multitude of ancient, embroidered clothes, and he used to say that they were his antiques.' (Lecaldano, 1973, p.10)  The relevance of this collection to my argument is obvious.  Houbraken claims to have heard from many Rembrandt students that 'he would sketch a face in ten different ways before painting it on to canvas, or that he would spend a whole day or even two arranging the folds of a turban until he was satisfied.' (Lecaldano, 1973, p.12)

There are some other points of interest noted by Rembrandt's contemporaries but since ignored.  There is frequent reference to Rembrandt's 'keeping low company'.  Von Standrart says: 'he had no idea of the importance of social rank and was forever rubbing shoulders with people of inferior class, which was detrimental to his work.' (Lecaldano, 1973, p.8)  These people were probably his models and I myself would regard them as essential to his work.  Baldinucci says: 'This painter belonged at the time to the Meninistic religion which, although a heretic sect, is nevertheless opposed to Calvanist doctrines;  its members do not receive baptism until the age of thirty; they do not elect literate preachers but men of low class who are given the same honours as gentlemen and men of wisdom...'(Lecaldano, 1973,p.9)

These early records and commentaries provide some strong support for my evidence  Von Sandrart comes tantalisingly close to telling us about the mirrors.  He writes: 'He also made skilful use of reflections by which means light could be made to penetrate areas of shadow.'  (Lecaldano, 1973, p.9)  This passage has always been taken to refer to light reflected from light-toned objects (such as the open Bible in the portrait of his mother).  It is more than likely that Von Sandrart refers to mirrors, which had a secondary use in reflecting more light on to a subject.  The daylight available to Rembrandt was uncompromisingly directional: no room in his house had windows on more than one side and there do not appear to have been skylights or large north lights such as is customary in studios.  It would be natural under such circumstances to try to bring in reflected light to 'fill' the shadows, in order to reveal the modelling.  It is probable that mirrors were first made use of as 'light enhancers' - and only later used as 'subject multipliers'.  The putative size of Rembrandt's mirrors is dealt with in the next chapter.  It seems reasonable to deduce that he possessed at least three mirrors: two are mentioned in the 1656 inventory.  But Rembrandt continued to paint self-portraits (which would of course have required a mirror of good quality) until his death in 1669.

In all the contemporary accounts I have found only one assertion which might be taken to be in conflict with my thesis.  Houbraken, writing in 1718, asserts: 'As an artist he was imaginative and that is why one often sees several sketches by him of the same subject.' (Lecaldano, 1973, p.12)  We may choose to decide that this means that the 'sketches' were actually made from Rembrandt's imagination.  What Houbraken really meant is not entirely clear; he may simply have wished to say that Rembrandt's creativity often produced more than one solution to any particular problem.  There is evidence from Houbraken himself to support this interpretation, in a later passage of this very text he writes:
"I know of no other artist who has introduced so many variations and so many different aspects of one and the same subject.  This was the result of careful observation (my italics) of the various passions and these are recognisable in the facial expressions and in the attitudes of his characters".

Karel van Mander reports that Michelangelo da Caravaggio used to asserted ·that
 “a painting, whatever its subject-matter and whoever its author, is a fatuous and a childish thing if it is not painted from nature: that there is nothing preferable to following nature: and for this reason he never attempted a single brush-stroke without a living model before his eyes. Our great Rembrandt was of the same opinion, and was indeed faithful to the principle that one must follow only nature: anything else was worthless in his eyes ... Rembrandt could never have been bound by rules dictated by others, nor could he have followed the example of other artists whose way of reproducing beauty has made them famous; he was content with imitating nature as he saw it and without any pedantry.” (Lecaldano, 1973, p.12)

It is curious that we have no direct account of Rembrandt's use of models and mirrors.  His use of mirrors is by no means unique: it is part of the continuous tradition of European painting and it begins with Brunelleschi or van Eyck - possibly even with Giotto.  It can be argued that such practices were so widespread that no-one thought them worthy of particular mention. I cannot believe that they were not common knowledge in Rembrandt's own lifetime. There is evidence that his students used mirrors occasionally. The size and quality of mirrors improved considerably in the 17thC as glass manufacture improved. In fact Amsterdam was the world leader during Rembrandt’s life-time.

Various remarks attributed to Rembrandt, his behaviour, his interests, his collection of bric-a-brac, jewellery, old clothes and theatrical properties, his fastidiousness in arranging a turban -  all give evidence of a man indulging in a continuous visual feast; an artist who, like a stage or film director, deploys his actors as a part of his art, and from the scene he has created he selects his subject matter and point of view to maximize the emotional expression.

His 'keeping of low company' and his association with the Mennonites give us some indication of possible sources for his amateur models.  He almost certainly also used professionals.  Finally, the records and the judgements of his contemporaries proclaim that Rembrandt was taught by nature.  All documentary signposts point in one direction; the 'scholars' have gone off on a 20thC tangent.