paradox: soul on ice and fire

Rembrandt’s vagabond prints were studies of despair and wretchedness far removed from say, the Frans Hals norm of guileful, droll figures within the tradition of moral satire that reaffirmed popular images of the bottom of the social rung. Rembrandt, though, used the shabby and repugnant in the form of the paradoxical veil; in what Baldwin has called simultaneously hiding and revealing human beings crushed by larger social forces.It was the paradox of the soul hidden yet shining out, the contradiction of of Botticelli where the fallen and ugly were moving relentlessly towards a transfiguration through divine love.  While Rembrandt’s unprecedented combination of repugnant ugliness and inner humanity may have offended bourgeois Dutch eyes, it yet reflected contemporary modes of charity.

---Rembrandt was fascinated with the social outcast and those on the fringes of Dutch society. Key examples of this genre include Beggar Man and Woman Behind a Bank and Beggars Receiving Alms at the Door of a House.--- Read More:

The Dutch public attitude toward the destitute was similar to contemporary Western practice: a revulsion and repressive satire over implied “diseases”.

If the Dutch money box allowed people to minimize personal contact with the poor, Rembrandt’s prints, like Mitch Snyder’s activism today, confronted burghers with shabbiness, suffering, and the “diseases” of the poor. By revealing individuals with personal histories and needs beneath the dehumanizing surface of ruin and sickness, Rembrandt presumably tried to arouse his fellow citizens to a more genuine social responsibility.Read More:

---In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Dutch author and art historian Gary Schwartz writes “The image of the beggar in Netherlandish art was no better than in society as a whole. It would not then have been out of line with the convictions of his society, with Netherlandish artistic tradition or classical art theory, had Rembrandt depicted beggars as contemptible or loathsome creatures. Indeed, some of his work fits perfectly well into this picture." Schwartz is also the editor of The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt published by Dover Publications in 1994. However, many of Rembrandt's etchings are of biblical scenes with biblical figures portrayed as beggars. Schwartz writes, “This kind of crossover between street life and sacred history matches a pattern that is found elsewhere in Rembrandt's work. Mean and sordid though they may have been in life and in art theory, in Rembrandt's etchings beggars are bestowed with sanctity and individuality.” --- Read More:

Rembrandt’s Beggar prints depicted poverty, ugliness and ruin as part and parcel of the ugliness and shame in Christ’s life, in sharp juxtaposition to the manufactured image of the beautiful and heroic; the Catholic church’s twisting of the scriptures to arrive at a conjured archetype, a miracle, that emphasized the rich, powerful and magnificent: the blond haired, blue eyed semite.

---He continues. “This constellation of images and of markets - from the pennies paid for small etchings of beggars to the veritable fortunes Rembrandt earned for paintings for the stadholder - shows how essential Rembrandt's etchings of beggars were in his formative years as an artist. The way he imagined the beggar is inextricable from the way he imagined himself, the way he imagined Christ, the way he conceived of imagery itself.”--- Read More:

Baldwin: If this powerful, rich, triumphant Christ dominated much Catholic Renaissance andBaroque art, it enjoyed less of a monopoly in Northern Europe. In fifteenth and early sixteenth-century Germany and the Netherlands, the late medieval, apostolic ideals of povertyand humility flourished in lay movements and writers such as Thomas à Kempis. Similarly, Northern Renaissance artists such as Bosch, Grünewald, and Bruegel developed a Christian aesthetic of poverty and lowliness.Read More:

Bruegel. The Fight Between Carnival and Lent. ---"percentage of americans living in poverty rises to highest level since 1993"- n.y. times, 9/13/11. "few are guilty but all are responsible" - a. j. heschel. ( hune ant martin buber ) image:

Some of the deeply materialist tendencies of the Reformation were seen is a repudiation of the Franciscan concept of voluntary poverty, begging and alms giving and a generally ambivalent attitude towards money. Rembrandt’s vagabond etchings reincorporated the earlier teachings – going back to the desert hermits- and sought out Christ among the poor and shabby of Amsterdam; an evocation of the protestant and even judaic mystery of the hidden god, a mysterious hidden divinity which avoided a pursuit of the divine and its tendency to spiritual materialism and objectification of god where god and religion became the selling of ecstasy as part of a larger commodity fetish.

Rembrandt. Hundred Guilders Print Etching. ---it seems to me that we should attempt to look at the definition of poverty from the "gaze" of the poor themselves. it is a forced and degrading form of life and the

rce of unmitigated suffering. perhaps the cultural and social alternative to capitalist materialism and greed is not poverty, but a life of dialogical simplicity. something along to what buber used to refer to as religious-libertatrian socialism. ( Hune at martin Buber Institute ) Image:

aBaldwin:In a broader context then, we can see howRembrandt’s early studies of beggars and street people helped him develop a Protestant languageof art, an art of paradox which revealed by concealing. If these works were more Christian thanself-consciously Protestant, more personal than ideological, they nonetheless grew out of theProtestant spirituality Rembrandt grew up with. And in their contrast with the materialistic, bourgeois values celebrated in so much Dutch art after 1640, these later religious works registereda protest against the increasing complacency, vanity, and greed of Dutch life.. Read More:

Rembrandt. Return of the Prodigal Son. ---The main group of the father and the Prodigal Son stands out in light against an enormous dark surface. Particularly vivid are the ragged garment of the son, and the old man's sleeves, which are ochre tinged with golden olive; the ochre colour combined with an intense scarlet red in the father's cloak forms an unforgettable colouristic harmony. The observer is roused to a feeling of some extraordinary event. The son, ruined and repellent, with his bald head and the appearance of an outcast, returns to his father's house after long wanderings and many vicissitudes. He has wasted his heritage in foreign lands and has sunk to the condition of a swineherd. His old father, dressed in rich garments, as are the assistant figures, has hurried to meet him before the door and receives the long-lost son with the utmost fatherly love. The occurrence is devoid of any momentary violent emotion, but is raised to a solemn calm that lends to the figures some of the qualities of statues and gives the emotions of a lasting character, no longer subject to the changes of time. Unforgettable is the image of the repentant sinner leaning against his father's breast and the old father bending over his son. The father's features tell of a goodness sublime and august; so do his outstretched hands, not free from the stiffness of old age. The whole represents a symbol of all homecoming, of the darkness of human existence illuminated by tenderness, of weary and sinful mankind taking refuge in the shelter of God's mercy. --- Read More:

Baldwin: In interweaving sacred and profane, Christ and beggar, in conjoining opposites without losing a sense of opposition, in hiding the divinity of Christ and revealing the humanity of “riff-raff”, Rembrandt brought religious and secular art to a level of representational paradox, mystery, and faith equivalent to that which the Reformation had restored to Christianity. If this accomplishment was rooted in both common Protestant metaphor and everyday Dutch reality, it yet transcended these sources in a language of form and meaning unparalleled in Dutch art. In the end, Rembrandt’s etchings and drawings of beggars remain as unprecedented and personal as his religious work, despite their roots in basic Protestant spirituality.Read More:

Bosch. The Vagabond ( Prodigal Son ) image:


…where is the place of god? ask the scriptures. martin buber placed god in the most difficult of places: in between and i and a thou. a hidden god remains eternally hidden in the infinity of his alterity. and yet we believe we can still pray to it. but the god of the between requires a human deed for its very existence. dialogue, the act of god-creation, is a fundamentally arduous task of the whole-being. it requires the mind, the body and the social engagement with all three realms of existence. Read More:

---The bride in the picture, by de Barrios' second marriage, was Abigail de Pina, who was descended from a prominent Moroccan rabbinic family, and whose father owned a sugar refinery in Amsterdam. Their wedding took place in August 1662. Like Spinoza, Uriel d'Acosta and other Marranos who had returned to the Jewish fold, de Barrios found himself embroiled in a series of disputes with the established Jewish community. Offended by his frequent allusions to pagan mythology and immodest themes, the Amsterdam communal leadership would not allow him to publish his poetic works, which had already attracted contributions from lucrative sponsors. He was forced to print them in Brussels. On the first day of Passover 1674, his Jewish bride found herself in a state of extreme distress, knocking desperately on the door or Rabbi Jacob Sasportas. Her husband had become immobile and unable to speak after a four-day regimen of fasting that had been commanded to him in one of his frequent ecstatic visions. Such extremes of religious piety were recurring phenomena for the ba'al t'shuvah de Barrios, who had by then abandoned his literary activity to become an active devotee of the apostate messiah Shabbetai Zvi Rabbi Sasportas was perhaps the most uncompromising adversary of the Sabbatian heresy at that time, and we would have expected Abigail's pleas to fall on unsympathetic ears. Yet the rabbi seems to have been so moved by their plight that he was willing to disregard de Barrios' heretical leanings. He listened calmly to the patient's ravings about the immanent cataclysms and redemption, urging him patiently to place his family's welfare above his messianic fervor, and to get back to his proper business of writing poetry. The husband accepted the counsel, at least until his next bout of religious enthusiasm found him urging the community to more penitential fasting. Although they remained poor ever after, their marriage lasted for twelve more years until Abigail's death in 1686. The doting husband memorialized her in poetry, and the epitaph he composed for her grave spoke of "My doubly good wife Dona Abigail Levy de Barrios--With permanent love for me and with God her high soul." According to Zwarts' touching reconstruction, at the time that the aged Rembrandt painted the picture, the artist was at a low point in his life, and he derived tremendous inspiration from the idyllic image of this loving and stable Jewish family.--- Read More: image:

…Now part of this frustration is to be understood again in relation to structures and institutions. In the way in which our culture of consumption has promoted an addiction to stimulation – one that puts a premium on packaged and commodified stimulation. the market does this to convince us that our consumption keeps oiling the economy for it to reproduce itself. But the effect of this addiction to stimulation is an undermining, a waning of our ability for qualitatively rich relationships…market moralities and mentalities– fueled by economic imperatives to make a profit at nearly any cost– yield unprecedented levels of loneliness, isolation, and sadness. And our public life lies in shambles, shot through with icy cynicism and paralyzing pessimism. To put it bluntly, beneath the record-breaking stock markets on Wall Street and bipartisan budget-balancing deals in the white house lurk ominous clouds of despair across this nation..Prophetic pragmatism attempts to keep alive the sense of alternative ways of life and of struggle based on the best of the past. In this sense, the praxis of prophetic pragmatism is tragic action with revolutionary intent, usually reformist consequences and always visionary outlook.” – cornel west…

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