In ‘Rembrandt Curated’ we combine an artwork by Rembrandt with a work by another artist. The two works evoke associations with one another, whether it is the theme, composition, color scheme, or just a feeling. The ‘Rembrandt Curated’ of this week: Paulus Potter, The Bull, 1647 (Mauritshuis, The Hague) and Rembrandt, The Slaughtered Ox, 1655 (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
Paulus Potter’s bull is standing proudly in the centre of the painting, commanding the space within the frame. What makes this painting so special and therefor so famous, is the fact that the artist painted something as ordinary as a piece of livestock on such a grand scale. That had never been done before. Although our eye is drawn towards the bull, Potter has paid great attention to the rest of the painting as well. Apart from the larger animals on the left, the man standing behind them and the tree with all its delicate foliage, we also see several different kinds of animals and a stormy sky in the far background.
Next to Potter’s painting of the bull, we see Rembrandt’s depiction of livestock. It is an affecting painting, especially when we compare it to Paulus Potter’s scene. Here we see the carcass of an ox that has been hung up to bleed. The details of the carcass draw our eye to this part of the painting, but there is something happening in the background as well. We see the head of a woman peeking into the room. There have been numerous theories on what Rembrandt wanted to say with this painting: is it symbolic for death, is it a memento mori (a symbol conveying the message that we should remember that life has an end), or is it just a plain, realistic image of a slaughtered ox with no hidden meaning?
Paulus Potter’s bull is alive and kicking, taking centre stage in a painting of monumental proportions. The artist has executed the painting with fine brushstrokes, giving the painting a very naturalistic feel. Rembrandt on the other hand, has shown the exact opposite: a dead ox, stripped of his skin, painted in a vibrant manner with dynamic brushstrokes, which suits the intensity of the scene. What are your thoughts on these two artworks? Do they form a good pair? We would love to hear what you think!