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Blindness and its Significance in the Works of Rembrandt

Since his arrival into the art world Art historians have been attempting to tap into the world of Rembrandt. Hundreds upon hundreds of books have been published all trying to do so. Upon conducting a search through Amazon. com keyword “Rembrandt” it returned to following: 401 different books about the life and works of Van Rin. And these are the ones that are still in print not to mention all the articles, movies, journalswell you get the point. Has anyone really figured out this artistic genius? I wanted to find that one thing that bound all of Rembrandts works together.

It was one of Rembrandts own quotes that led me do so. “Try to put well in practice what you already know. In so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things you now inquire about. ” So using what I already know I asked the question: What is it that separates Rembrandt apart from the rest of the art world? His painting are famous for being clouded, their figures emerging from, or buried deep in darkness, why the very surface of the canvas would be so rough and coarse and stumbled, as though to insist that the surface of things was not important. though to force you the viewer to look beyond the merely visible world to what is invisible? (Mee, 76) As though viewing the world through the eyes of a blind man? Although the frequent occurrence of blindness in “Rembrandt” is well known I feel that it is a theme far to common to ignore. I have elected to give more insight into how and why this theme found its way into so many of his paintings. Through a further analysis of “Rembrandts” paintings, etchings and drawings I will conclude that blindness plays more than just a small role in works of this genius.

Approximately 80 or 90 percent of the human sensory stimuli comes through the eyes. Therefore, the loss of vision automatically changes the course of the victim’s life. Reading, writing, finding items easily, walking without the fear of hitting obstacles, responding to other people’s gestures, and naturally working become impossible. Depression is very common among people facing sudden, permanent blindness. Self-esteem is compromised as the victim becomes to a large extent dependent on other people in most everyday routines and cannot usually do productive work.

Blindness is a heavy tax on both the family of the blinded person and the society as a whole. Rehabilitation and care of the victim takes up a lot of both human and material resources. Direct and indirect costs of sudden blindness include medical treatment, rehabilitation, therapy, and retraining of the victim, time spent on guiding and helping the blinded person, and the lost working years of the victim. The first trace of the Blind theme The first real painting that Rembrandt ever did was of his Father.

It seems that he becomes so facinated with the blindness idea it will even find its way into works where it isnt the main focus. For Example in the Return of the Prodigal Son where we cant be sure of the Fathers blindness all we can tell is that he is an older man whose eyes seemed to be closed slightly. What is the reason behind for this reoccurring idea? Well although there is no definate answer. We can speculate that it was one of a few things. Perhaps it his own Fathers lost of vision toward the end of his life.

Or because like his father developed eye problems in his fifties. It is a well documented fact that Rembrandt took a liking to the story of sampson The Paintings Rembrandt’s “Angel and the Prophet Balaam” “The Blinding of Sampson” The Blindness of Tobit Blindness in rembrandts art is most revelant when he depicts stories from the bible. Altough, he was well scriptured and new many of the Bibles stories. There were s few that he favored above the rest. Throughout his lifetime Rembrandt painted, drew and etched fifty different works all focused on themes from the book of Tobit.

The story is not in most Bibles because it is a Persian folk tale, which has no connection to the spiritual history of the Jews. But the story was included in the Dutch Bible, which was readily available to “Rembrandt”. The story begins with Tobit asleep outside in the courtyard while he is asleep, a swallow deposits a veil on Tobits eyes, and he is blinded. Therefore he can not work and hence he and his wife Anna lose their wealth and become poor. In need of money Tobit sends out his son Tobias to collect a debt.

A companion joins him on his way, The Archangel Raphael yet the family is not aware of his identity. On his Journey Tobias goes down to bathe in the Tigris and is attacked by a large fish he kills it with a little help from his companion. Raphael then advises him to save the liver and gall for later use. After much delay he returns home. Raphael then advises him to rub the gall from the fish he caught into his fathers eyes. This is the scene most common in all of his depictions of Tobit but Rembrandts chose to manipulate scripture and show Tobias wielding an optical surgeons needle.

Implying that he was more than familiar with cataract surgery of that period and that admired the delicacy and steadiness needed for the risky procedure. It has been noted that a comparison of Rembrandt’s early and late works reveal a reduction in detail together with a loss of violet, blue, and green hues. This suggests that Rembrandt developed cataracts in later life. Having already observed and drawn a couching procedure, Rembrandt may have wanted to avoid similar treatment for himself. Did Rembrandt Fear that he would arrive at the same fate as his father?

Held speaks of the connection of the eyes with sexual interests, of the lust of the eye, that punishment of peeping Tom of Coventry was blinding, the appropriate retribution for a forbidden use of his eyes. Mee suggests the idea that Rembrandt developed an oedipal complex. Oedipus is most famous for blinding himself as a symbolic act of Castration. Was rembrandt preoccupied with blindness because of guilt as being a painter, a professional voyeur? This may seem a little far fetched (eloborate) Around the same time of his obsession with the book of Tobit Remrandt began to form a liking to another biblical story, the story of samson.

He painted three diiffernent works all about the story. The most well recognized of the three is the Blinding of Samson. Although blindess is an obvious theme in this work its meaning goes far beyond the actual physical blindness into something deeper and more sexual. Blindness as a symbol of castration In developing his theory of the Oedipus complex, Freud associated blindess with castration an interpreted the self-blinding of King Oedpius as a symbolic act of self-castration. Despite the fact that The Blinding of Samson is obviously not self-inflicted the symbol of blindness is still quite evident.

In mythology it was, above all, the inquisitiveness of the human eye which enraged the gods because it threatened their prerogatives. The punishment of blindness, then, is not specific for Oedipal desires but often represents a retaliation of the gods for the even greater arrogance of competing with them in vision and knowledge. In ancient customs the blind were treated as if they deserved their misfortune as punishment for immodest ambitions. The wicked people of Sodom were struck blind because of their sins, and when David besieged the Jebusites of Jerusalem he took stringent measures against the blind.

As outcasts of society, the blind were kept quarantined outside the city gates. In some parts of India the blind are given no organized assistance because blindness is considered a punishment for major sins in one’s previous existence. Even in Western countries parents may unconsciously feel that their child was punished with blindness because of their own sins, and they reject the child as an unwelcome reminder. Many artists throughout the ages have painted the story of Samson, but never in such gruesome detail. The gore pierces the soul and causes fear for ones own loss of vision.

Once the shock of the subject matter has subsided one can look deeper to see the sexual overtones that are hardly hidden by the biblical nature of the painting. In the Samson painting, Delilah is fleeing from the scene with a painr of shears in one hand and a large portion of hair in the other while Samson is pinned to the ground by four soldier wearing armor. One has him in a choke-hold; another hauls back on one of his arms with a length of chain; a Third threatens him with an upraised sword; and the fourth is boring a dagger into samsons right eye, which causes a blood-like substance to erupt from the eye.

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