Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Mick Hartley has a nice post about how a particular piece of Chinese art in the British Museum has, inexplicably, always inspired him. It is a peculiar process; whilst walking round a gallery one work can reach out and hold you, say something intimate, and make you unwilling to avert your eyes or walk away.

The last time it happened to me was in Amsterdam when I saw Rembrandt's, The Jewish Bride.

This reproduction does not do it justice. Though the pose is stylised, the faces are complex and full of life. Their touch is light. It is the tenderness that overwhelms; it has the air of a love that is not a dark romantic passion, desperate and adolescent, but a mature companionship with deep roots. It is a gentle and warm picture; I cannot see it without smiling.

The attribution of the subject is debated, though Eliezer Segal thinks that the couple were not only drawn from Amsterdam's Jewish community, but also that he can identify them. It remains speculation.

The next day I visited the Anne Frank House. The poignancy was unbearable. It is not just witness to the destruction of the Jewish community from which Rembrandt had drawn his subjects, but of each individual life, each unique universe, each memory, brutally ripped from existence. And so the painting meant more. It was a way of displaying the common humanity that spits the word, 'liar', in the face of racism.

In 1970, Solzhenitsyn built his Nobel lecture around the following sentence, "One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: "Beauty will save the world". After my trip to Amsterdam, I began to understand why.

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