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November 27, 2007

The Aging Face of Rembrandt

By way of his many self-portraits, you can see Rembrandt's face aging - the color fading, the muscles collapsing, skin sagging and getting puffy, and his expression changing from eagerness, happiness, and even playful silliness to tiredness and resignation (and, toward the end, sometimes also a look of amusement as if he were thinking "Life didn't turn out at all like I thought it would, but you see I'm having the last laugh").

Seeing him age through these self-portraits must be especially intriguing to people who themselves are getting old, but surely Rembrandt's portraits appeal to people of all ages, no matter that the subjects may not be "beautiful" or "handsome," and it doesn't only have to do with the beautiful job of painting he did -- The very ordinariness of the people he depicted is part of their appeal (to many, not to all).

One realizes that Rembrandt painted and drew his own aging face without vanity and even with relish (though never without compassion, which he apparently felt for everyone he painted including himself), for all to see. Certainly he was interested in beauty - What artist isn't? But "beauty" means something different to different people. To Rembrandt it was the finest presentation possible of the truth.

People who know their pictures are being painted or drawn probably all hope to be depicted in such a way that they conform to society's view of how a person of their circumstances (age, sex, occupation, family role, etc. - or whichever of these things they most identify with) "should" look and I'm assuming that none of them wish to appear actually ugly. Rembrandt had to consider these things when he painted other people's portraits, but still he made them look like "real people," not slicked-up and stylized people (men all looking pretty much the same...and quite handsome, women ditto...and always beautiful). In so doing, he gave them something that a fake presentation can't muster: dignity, whether they liked it or not. He didn't leave out "imperfections" that made each person unique, though he didn't make caricatures out of them, either, nor was his point to make them ugly.

He also was able to bring out something of their character.

It seems to me that what he did was to make his subjects look like authentic, unidealized people who had the courage and dignity to accept the way they were. We are sympathetic toward them because we see them as honest people.

As for his self portraits, he could paint himself any way he wanted. He could have lied about himself, but instead he found his own odd features, and aging face, fascinating.

Apropos these thoughts, below is a relevant quote from a (very fat, very fact-filled and interesting) book I read recently by Simon Schama, called Rembrandt's Eyes:

From page 699:

"[F]or Rembrandt, imperfections are the norm of humanity. Which is why he will always speak across the centuries to those for whom art might be something other than the quest for ideal forms; to the unnumbered legions of damaged humanity who recognize, instinctively and with gratitude, Rembrandt's vision of our fallen race, with all its flaws and infirmities squarely on view, as a proper subject for picturing, and, more important, as worthy of love, of saving grace."

Below is a video that does a good "morphing" job on several of Rembrandt's self-portraits, from when he was quite young until he was an old man. It makes use of both etchings and paintings. Rembrandt starts out quite young in this video, and gets old before your eyes in just a minute or two, so that when he is an old man you still have in mind his youthful looks - This makes the effect of aging particularly poignant. Although you don't get a good look at each individual picture, you get a startling overall effect which makes you realize one reason why his paintings of people are so powerful (they are "real" people that we can identify with).

Time: 2 minutes, 23 seconds

After viewing the video, you may want to look at this page, titled:
Rembrandt and his Self Portraits
which has many very nice reproductions of Rembrandt self-portraits. You can see the pictures clearly and take as long as you want to look at them. When you get to the page, click on a small version of the picture, or else the title of the picture, to see it in larger size. It may take a few seconds for the picture to appear then, but it does show up. There's also an article about his self-portraits, toward the bottom of the page.


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November 25, 2007

More on the Art of Camouflage

In an earlier post on camouflage (a very short history of it, and an explanation of why it is an art) I put several links to articles I had read on the subject at the end of the post. I now have three really good new links, which will lead you to articles (with photos) on camouflage, mostly in World War II, but also in World War I.

THE FIRST ONE is a recent book review (actually, a blog post) though the book was published in 1978 and can be bought used. See it here at Amazon.com for as low as $4.23 or see it here at half.com for as low as $2.99 (as of the time I'm writing this). This is a book I'll be looking for in our local library system. Here is the page where you'll find the article and pictures: Military Deceptions

The blog is called: StrangeHarvest - Architecture, Design, Art and More.

The article (with photographs) was posted November 10, 2007. The photos and descriptions are from a book called Masquerade, The Amazing Camouflage Deceptions of World War II by Seymour Reit.

The examples shown in the post (which include a blow-up rubber tank and a U.S. Army headquarters that appears to be a trash dump, as well as several others) are fascinating, and of course there would be many times more pictures in the book itself. As I'm typing this there are still very few comments on the post, the latest dated November 25th (today), but they're interesting to read.

ANOTHER LINK. I really like this one. It's about "Dazzle" (ship camouflage). If you're interested in ships, you'll definitely want to see these pages which are very nicely laid out, quite interesting, and with lots of fascinating old photographs, including pictures of some of the artists "at work" and, of course, many photos of the ships that were painted with a "Dazzle" design.

Besides a link ("Next") at the bottom of the page to a second page, there are several links to other pages (with photographs) at the upper right - Don't miss those. This article is called DazZLe CaMoUflage: High Difference Camouflage (hodgepodge) and was written by Roy R. Behrens (a book he has written on the subject is advertised). One thing that is explained here is how painting ships in such a highly visible way could "disguise" it (something I wondered about myself).

LAST BUT NOT LEAST is a link to photographs of the USS Leviathan with a Dazzle paint job, in 1918. Besides looking quite "dazzling," this ship has a strange history, but what's important here is its camouflage paint job.

Click here to see several photos of the USS Leviathan. This is on the Naval Historical Center site ("an official U.S. Navy web site").

I've added two of the Leviathan pictures below. The first is of the plan for "Dazzle" camouflage intended for the starboard side c. 1918 (slightly larger pictures are on the site, and if you click on them you get much bigger versions). The actual design that was painted on the ship differed slightly from the plan (see second picture below).

Here is a photograph of the actual ship in 1918 "in harbor, with tubs at attendance at her starboard bow."

I hope you enjoy what you find when you click on these links as much as I did.

NOTE ADDED June 10, 2008: Another post on camouflage - with videos

NOTE ADDED February 29, 2008: Here is an article I just came across today that tells about how warships' vulnerability to being detected "has led the military to develop new stealth technologies that allow ships to be virtually invisible to the human eye, to dodge roaming radars, put heat-seeking missiles off the scent, disguise their own sound vibrations and even reduce the way they distort the Earth's magnetic field ...." The article is on the Science Daily site.


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