Breakfast with Lucian

Julian Barnes writes:

Rembrandt’s Artist in His Studio, c.1629, is a small picture with a blazing message. The viewpoint is that of one seated on the bare floor in the corner of an attic studio with crumbling plaster walls. On the right, in shadow, is the doorway. In the centre, with its back to us, is an enormous easel with a picture propped on it. On the left, barely half the height of the easel, stands the painter, brush and mahlstick in hand, dressed in his painting robe and hat. He is in shadow, but we can roughly make out his moon face as he stares at his picture. The light source, out of shot, is to the left of him and above. It falls almost entirely on the floorboards, turning them corn-coloured, and also on the left-hand edge of the painting on the easel, giving it a glittering vertical line. But because we can’t see where the light is coming from, the image switches round in our head: it is as if the painting is blazing out over the floor (but not onto the manikin-painter). So we are to understand: it is the art which illuminates, which gives the artist both his being and his significance, rather than the other way round.

(LRB 5 December 2013)

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