“The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” . A Golden Age, Gobbled Up by the Gilded Age
With his opulent paint, acute ambition, stumblebum’s mug and pilgrim’s soul, Rembrandt van Rijn was a god of 17th-century European art. Some 20 paintings by him — the largest number outside Amsterdam — pulse through “The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” a show with an elusive heart.
The Met has long advertised itself as a grand art multiplex, a cluster of separate world-class museums under a single roof. This isn’t just hype; it’s true. And periodically we get a demonstration. In 1998 the museum pooled all of its 15th-century Netherlandish paintings for a special exhibition. Even people who knew the material well were swept away.
“The Age of Rembrandt” is a similar show of strength, this time of the Met’s entire 17th-century Dutch painting collection: 228 pictures, of which about a third are usually on view at any time, and some never. A rough checklist tells the story.
In addition to the Rembrandts, there are 11 Frans Hals, 7 Salomon van Ruysdaels, 5 Vermeers, 5 Jacob van Ruisdaels and 8 paintings by Gerard ter Borch. Add to these a sensational Hendrick ter Brugghen altarpiece; major paintings by Jan van de Cappelle, Pieter Claesz and Aelbert Cuyp; and backup reserves of dozens of worthy if less familiar figures, and you have an inventory of breathtaking scope and depth.
How to package it? For the earlier show the Met stuck to linear chronology: early to late. For “The Age of Rembrandt” it has come up with a theme, and a perfect one for our time: money.
The work has been sorted not by artists or dates, but by the names and dates of the collectors who bought and gave the paintings to the museum. In this arrangement the history of Dutch “Golden Age” art begins in the American Gilded Age of the late 19th century, when the Met first opened its doors. The exhibition’s stars are not Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, but J. P. Morgan, Collis P. Huntington, William K. Vanderbilt and Louisine and H. O. Havemeyer.