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Rembrant Search Party
a collection of articles devoted to
and signatures, with glimpses of other artists'
signatures and related topics.
is an educational, non-commercial site.
How this Site Came to Be
website presents some of the results of an informal Rembrandt research
project begun in 1976 while I was a graduate student in art history at
the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). I had chosen Rembrandt's Philosopher
in meditation (ca. 1632, Bredius 431) in the Musée
Louvre as the topic of my master's thesis.
Although it seemed like a limited topic to most
people, by the time I had earned my MA, I knew that I had much more
work to do and that it would have to be done outside of academia. I
wanted to think not just
in art-historical but also in psychological, philosophical, and
visual terms to find out how this picture worked (and how the minds of
its beholders worked). In
1978, cultural studies were not yet an option.
grown up bilingual in France and the USA, I became a
translator of art books, working on my Rembrandt research and
photography during the off-periods. My research strategy was to read whatever I could
find in the Rembrandt literature that seemed remotely connected to my
intuitions and ideas. In
1986, the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) published the second volume
of its Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, which
unexpectedly demoted "my" painting to a non-Rembrandt (C 51). Since I seemed to be the
best person for the job, the Louvre assigned me to write an article on
this unexpected development. My
findings, published in the Revue du Louvre (1990,
no. 3), finally cast more doubts on the RRP's methodology than on the
painting itself, which must be considered a key work in Rembrandt's
career, if more in the private than in the public realm.
upshot of the disattribution was that I began looking more
closely at Rembrandt's signatures, an area that proved to be
thorny and confusing. There was little reliable information,
and signs of identity
such as signatures seemed to be an inherently problematic topic. One day I was looking at a
detail of the Anatomy
Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) and discovered that the
navel of the corpse seemed to have been given the shape of the letter
"R". This led me to
consider the attention that Rembrandt himself had devoted to his name
and signature(s), especially in the period 1631-1633, which led to his
definitive formulation: "Rembrandt f.[ecit]". Another day, in the 1990s, I saw the special shape of Rembrandt's "R"
providing the basic form of the composition of several works
this same period. All
of my efforts since
then involved trying to make sense of these observations and finding a
conceptual framework for them. The verbal-visual "opposition" turned out to be a false lead,
because it was not as entrenched in 17th-century Holland as it is in
our time. The most promising direction for an explanation
of such phenomena lies in neurocognitive research.
wrote my findings down in 1995 in a manuscript titled THE REMBRANT
SEARCH PARTY (the name I had given this project in 1988), updating it in 2004 and completing it in 2006.
In 1991 I had moved from Paris to
Hamburg and made a seamless transition to my own artwork
(performance, installation, process work, photography). One
process work titled OZONE STATION PROJECT (1993-2000) led to a model of
human-consciousness-as-medium that bypasses the confusion resulting
from pseudo-problems such as the abovementioned word-image opposition. To create an identity covering all my activities,
decided to call myself a
a term that, among other things, means "thought-painter," and
that I have translated for better or worse as artistorian. Rembrandt's 400th birthday seemed the perfect occasion (and the
internet the perfect medium) to make this work accessible to a
larger audience in an informative,
thought-provoking and, hopefully, entertaining form.
of Netherlandish Painting at the Musée du Louvre, Jacques
Rembrandt's Philosopher in meditation out of its
frame in 1990 (photo: JMC)
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