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: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Procession to Calvary, 1564 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and Rembrandt, The Mill, c. 1645-1648 (National Gallery of Art, Washington).
On the right we see Rembrandt’s powerful landscape, with a mill prominently in the middle. In the nineteenth century art historians celebrated the dramatic silhouette of the mill against a dark, stormy sky, with golden tones all throughout the painting. However, they did not know that the romantic golden aura was caused by darkened and discoloured varnish. The painting was restored between 1977 and 1979, unveiling a blue and grey sky. The mill in the centre of the composition is highlighted by the sunlight coming from the right. It is possible that Rembrandt based the mill on this painting on his father’s mill near Leiden, although the rest of the surroundings doesn’t resemble the Dutch landscape whatsoever. Rembrandt’s mill seems to be more symbolic in nature, portrayed as a guardian, overlooking and protecting the land and its people.
Compared to Rembrandt’s painting, Bruegel’s painting (seen on the left) is packed with action. The Procession to Calvary is his second-largest known painting (after The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day from c. 1565-1568). The subject of this painting is Christ carrying the cross, although at first glance, Christ is hard to find. When we draw a line vertically down the middle and then another line horizontally, the figure of Christ can be found where the two lines cross. However, Bruegel did not intend to only depict Christ’s march towards crucifixion. The figures in red, scattered throughout the composition, represent the Spanish army that has oppressed The Netherlands during the sixteenth century. In this interesting YouTube-video, this painting by the Flemish master is placed in its historical context. Often, with religious themed paintings like this, there is a heavenly figure overlooking the scene. Here, we see a mill. Just like in Rembrandt’s painting, the mill seems to be overlooking and protecting its surroundings.
What are your thoughts on these two artworks? Do they form a good pair? We would love to hear what you think!