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Observed Art suffered a huge set-back with the invention of the camera (1826). Artists have progressively moved away from the naturalism the camera does so well. But observed art serves other purposes besides mirroring nature. Rembrandt’s art has sharpened our awareness of life by focusing on visual human expression. Rembrandt has done more to educate our eye to non-verbal communication than any other; perhaps because of this he has become the prime victim of the present fashion for abstraction. Art critics are no longer attuned to this fundamental area of human expression: the body.

Over the last 100 years scholars have misspent much of their time studying Rembrandt’s “style” for them this means his hand-writing. They have concocted an evolution of his style, which had they got it right might have been mildly interesting. If a Dickens scholars did the same they would be considered very shallow; yet Rembrandt scholars seem to have agreed to avoid any reference to what he has to say about humanity. Human feeling is out as far as recent art criticism is concerned. Scholars seem blind to it.

Unfortunately, I will be showing that scholars have got the progress of his style horribly wrong. By forcing their hypothetical ideas on Rembrandt’s drawings they have reduce their number by over 50%. This is not just sad it is deeply damaging to our culture and has effected our ability to read each others feelings and appreciate Rembrandt for his foremost quality.

Art historians generally seem to suffer from two tribal taboos: first, against observation and second, against mechanical aids. I have discovered the use of mechanical aids at the heart of some of the most important initiatives in art, from life-casting in ancient Greek sculpture (from c.500 BC onwards) to the use of mirrors in Brunelleschi’s invention of scientific perspective, in Velasquez’ masterpiece “Las Meninas” and in Vermeer’s unique judgement of tone. I would not include Rembrandt’s use of mirrors in this list because he got no artistic advantage from them other than doubling the number of figures present and having himself as an ever present model to observe for his numerous self-portraits. Rembrandt is a victim of their first taboo; the scholars do not want such a great artist to be an observer, They pretend he invented his Biblical subjects out of an “inner vision”. I hope to persuade you, with abundant evidence, that this is a serious mistake that must be rectified. Not for Rembrandt’s sake but for our own.

Rembrandt was the sharpest observer of human behaviour. This is his amazing strength and needs to be studied. We cannot understand him if we deny his use of models and de-attribute half his output. He was the most important signpost for artists. Scholarly antics have pushed him into a position where he is no longer trusted by the young. I have been preaching the need for a paradigm shift in the mind-set of the tribe of art historians for years. They need to start by experiencing practical art for themselves, or at minimum, have the humility to listen to those who have.

My discoveries came as a result of practising art. For me Rembrandt’s drawings exemplify above all others, the sculptural values of space and form. The scholars live in a world apart, reading each others books but refusing all correction from artists; alas, it is our history they are ravaging!

Rembrandt was on a continuous journey of discovery; not on a production line of consistent art objects for the market-place, as the scholars hope to recreate him. His wide ranging methods and interests produced very wide ranging quality. He did not tidy away his less successful works, nor should the scholars do so. He has left us the fullest record of his explorations of any artist and naturally his work includes many comparative failures. But astonishingly, even some of his greatest drawings have been misattributed to minor students.

My story is corroborated by all Rembrandt’s contemporaries but their testimony is neglected by today’s scholars. Rembrandt is so significant for artists that a truer understanding of his virtues could bring about a much needed change in the course of art in our time.

When you have seen my evidence please help to bring about change by testifying to its obvious truth - on the blog.
Max Wykes Joyce (The International Herald Tribune) wrote of my exhibition at Imperial College “certainly the exhibition is a seminal one which should not be lightly dismissed”.
Prof. Bryan Coles of Imperial College wrote “these reconstructions (many of which compel assent) … it would be a pity for scholarship not to profit from his (Konstam’s) imaginative researches” Icon.

Prof. Sir Ernst Gombrich backed it with his authority and great energy to get my article published in The Burlington Magazine (Feb.1977) the editor Benedict Nicolson wrote “I find the evidence you have accumulated of the greatest possible interest, and so I am sure will Rembrandt scholars, who must now get down to revising the corpus of drawings.” In spite of this high level backing my discoveries have got nowhere with the Rembrandt “experts”. To understand this resistance it is necessary to realise that my discoveries invalidate probably 90% of the Rembrandt scholarship of the last 40 years.

Recently, my view of Rembrandt has been accepted by The National Gallery (London). They have returned their version of The Adoration of the Shepherds to it’s rightful place among the true Rembrandts. It had been languishing in the basement since the Rembrandt Research Project had insisted it was a 17th century variant on the version in Munich. My demonstration on YouTube, that it has to originate from a complex three dimensional group seen through a mirror, “compels assent”. That it replicates Rembrandt’s practice as a draughtsman will become clear in Chapter 4.

Without a massive outcry from the public my series of discoveries will be buried and forgotten. This is a matter of enormous interest to artists and no doubt to the layman as well. I insist that direct observation was the mainstay of Rembrandt’s achievement. Our present understanding of the nature of the visual imagination is misguided. It needs to be thoroughly revised.

This book is essentially the same as that which was first accepted by Phaidon Press and then rejected after a vile report from an anonymous scholar reader. Word got around and no other publisher would touch it. Understandably publishers were more impressed by the bile my revolution provokes from the establishment than the truths it contains.

E Reader’s Note

I have simply brought that book up to date with a few minor adjustments to adapt it to the electronic age. I have inserted links to YouTube that will short cut many of the long winded explanations needed to find the right part of each illustration (these are now in italics).

YouTube has the advantage of colour and clarity and painlessly directs your eye where needed; the links are therefore strongly recommended. (You will need access to the internet as you read.) I have italicised those parts of the original that can be skipped if you tale the link. The original photographs of maquettes are included. A list of the drawings in the original book is contained in the Appendix. I hope one day a publisher can be found for the entire book with all the illustrations. This is a shortened version to whet the appetite.

I have maintained the rather scholarly style for those with professional interests in the subject because I still dream of converting them. The new opportunities for the aspiring young are unparalleled. Rembrandt scholarship needs to be started over again. It is a disaster area due to fundamental misunderstandings. Firstly his insistence on observation as superior to invention. Perhaps because of this, his apparent disinterest in angels or feathers he is obliged to invent on occasion. Third his use of mirrors which confirms for us the existence of models in his studio but also accounts for some of the less impressive drawings. Forth, his casual attitude to finish, he wanted to focus people’s attention on what was important. Fifth, his casual attitude to quality on occasions, he treated his drawings as private inquiry, and seemed uninterested in cutting a dash with his virtuosity. These qualities together make him an unreliable genius, we must learn to accept him as he was. We must learn to judge his drawings by the good that is in them: his understanding of space as a potent expression of the spirit of man.

The scholars focus on style has been much worse than useless. It has nearly ruined our appreciation of mankind’s most sensitive observer.

Next Chapter: Chapter One