Mediamatic Magazine vol 6 # 1 Jorinde Seijdel 1 Jan 1991

Rembrandt's Paniek

Rembrandt van Rijn is troubled by nightmares containing the most troubling images. Just last night, he dreamed that he was forces to eat three of his most prized paintings… Ever since a specially created committee has begun trying to destroy his oeuvre and besmirch his name, the painter has been having a hard time. He’s very worried.


Rembrandt's Paniek -

The worst thing is that he has to get all of the information about it from the newspapers. As if he didn't exist. False Rembrandts Discovered/ Rembrandt Drawings Prove False/ New Research Reveals Rembrandts: Museum Director Mixed Up, etc. The shame! Pooh, every Rembrandt is a Rembrandt. A Rembrandt is a Rembrandt is a Rembrandt is a Rembrandt...

How many times has he tried to make an appointment with the 50 called Rembrandt Research Project and how many times haven't they put him off. Those heavily, chemically and microscopically armed researchers, searching for falsehoods, give him gooseflesh. The Special Effects of the Real Thing , he reads, with a sneer. The Secret of Rambrandt says another headline in his carefully kept scrap book. Secret? He gave everything that he had and that he is... If he'd had a secret, then no one would know it, thus, it
wouldn’t 't exist. The mystery, that’s what it’s all about. The wretches can't stand the mystery...

For the thousandth time, Rembrandt begins to count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9,... 3 times 3 = 9· Rembrandt sings his song. Declared false, recently: 1 Portrait of the Painter Hendrick Martensz. Sorgh, 2 Portrait of Sorgh’s Wife, 3 David’s Parting with Jonathan, 4 The Holy Family with Saint Anna, 5 The Man in the Plumed Helmet, 6 Portrait of Anna Wijmer, 7 Landscape with Coach, 8 Man with the Red Cap.

They even have their doubts about 9, a self portrait. He carefully looks in the mirror, a tear in his eye. Who is that man? Rembrandt van Rijn, son of Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsdr. van Zuytbroeck, you do not exist. Help! It goes on and on, the list of doomed paintings and drawings is endless. In the third part of A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, forty Rembrandts have been 'taken away’. At the turn of the century, 966 works had been attributed to Rembrandt, but at the end of this one, that will only be a good 300 . Around the year 2100, calculates. What's to be done? First, go to bed, for once, get some sleep. Without any dinner.

Tonight, as well, the painter is tormented by a bad dream, this time in three parts: in honour of the Year of Rembrandt there are receptions, exhibitions and lectures being organised everywhere. Of course, he hasn't been invited to any of these events, but he goes anyway. He manages to get in on the sly, time after time, only to be bowled over in astonishment, again and again.

I. He’s at a cocktail party in the Rijksmuseum, and what does he see? Himself, more than a
hundred times over: all of the guests look exactly like him. We are the Rembrandts , they sing in chorus. We are the Rembrandts . He flees, into the room with the Nightwatch hanging in it. The enormous painting has been hung with its face to the wall, on the back has been written in big, fluorescent pink letters, with a spray can: REMBRANT GO HOME! (Only after he has awakened does he take note of the spelling mistake)...

II. He’s walking about at a big Rembrandt exhibition, location unknown, and at first sight, he is contented. He sees that they are all hanging there, all the canvases that he’s ever painted. He lingers a bit in front of a precious self portrait from 1655 and then only does he notice: next to his signature is scratched Research Project . With knocking knees, he walks past his other works and, at each one, reads the words which have been applied as rudely as graffiti behind his precious signature...

III. Somewhat uneasily, he is sitting on a hard seat in a space resembling a lecture hall at a university, where a lecture is just beginning, by a professor specialized in the 'Rembrandt Image'. To sum up, one must conclude: Rembrandt had an unpleasant disposition and an untrustworthy character. Thus does the professor begin, in a weighty tone and thus does he continue. He repeats these words endlessly, and without stumbling; only his intonation changes now and again from businesslike to mysterious, from unctuous to commanding. (Later that day, Rembrandt remembers that he has read these words at some point in a book with the title: Rembrandt: his life, his paintings by a certain Gary Schwartz.) With a fiery red face, the artist looks around. He sees everyone intently taking notes. Once in a while, the professor adds a comic note, as if to make the weight of his lecture less crushing, by reciting the text in sing song fashion like a
naughty child. Grateful giggling...

After this diabolical night, Rembrandt's unease changes
definitively into panic.
 Apocalyptic days follow, in
which madness seems just around the corner. The most horrible
thoughts... As everyone seems to
consider him dead already, he
gives up the idea of suicide. He
thinks of murder, but who? The
Rembrandt Research Project?
Nothing guarantees him that his
name will be cleared by the deed.
What to do? He stops eating, he
stops painting. Showering, showering, showering... the warm water offers charitable relief. He showers a good eight times a day, his skin becomes white and wrinkled. While leafing through the newspaper one afternoon, his restless eye suddenly lights on a little advertisement : Rembrandt Research Project needs scientific assistant. The candidates are required to have: specialized knowledge of the complete Rembrandt oeuvre… Tra, Ia la...
What must be, must be, Salvation seems at hand. That same night, Rembrandt writes his letter of application. He signs it Dr, Witold Finkelstein, a name that has a ring to it. On thin ice, a daring undertaking!

Six days later, the letter arrives inviting him for an interview. He knew it. Rembrandts heart beats quicker, filled with expectation. On the agreed day, with deadly calm and in his Sunday best, he takes a taxi to the offices of the RRP. Dr. Witold Finkelstein may have a seat. Dr. Witold Finkelstein is given a cup of coffee. Dr. Witold Finkelstein is asked a number of questions: Question 1 : What is on the back of the Nightwatch . Spell the text. Question2: lmagine that you were an official RRP employee, what are you to do if you are standing in front of a Rembrandt which is to be researched, holding a sharp knife. Question 3:Finish the sentence: //In summary, one must conclude… Dr. Witold Finkelstein passes with flying colours. No more questions, its fine just like it is. Dr. Witold Finkelsteins heart is filled with hatred. Work begins the next day, bring a bag lunch.

It must be said that Rembrandt had not thought up a single bit of strategy in advance. He has no idea, not even the vaguest notion of what he must do, but it seems to him to be of essential interest to study the Enemy from within. But it runs on wheels, it seems to happen by itself. Dr. Witold Finkelstein turns out to be a brilliant scientist, who produces a Various evidence proves that… at just the right moments. This erudition greatly impresses his colleagues. And with the observation In Rembrandt’s environment in Amsterdam, people weren’t particularly prudish and for Rembrandt himself, it must have meant little more that some gossip that he’d begun an affair with his new housekeeper, after the scandal with her predecessor. (Schwartz, p. 292), he’s won them over for good to his side.

At home, Rembrandt vomits out the learned grimace of Dr. Witold Finkelstein and showers for hours to wash away the treason. His dark plans begin to take on a solid form. He has the feeling that he’s begun to know his 'colleagues'. They have the custom, before beginning on the analysis of one of his paintings, of running three times right around the conference table, while uttering loud, inarticulate cries. And their motto, like their method is: Better two Rembrandts gone, than one on the wall. The first task is to make them turn about.
On a Wednesday afternoon in November, with a new, fresh painting laying on the dissection table, Dr. Witold Finkelstein manages to be the one who leads the ritual table dance.

Confusion reigns for a moment, as he goes to the left; there is a chain reaction, which causes everyone except himself to be thrown to the ground. He doesn't give an inch, and once they are all back on their feet, he inexorably moves on in the same direction. Dr. Witold Finkelstein radiates authority and confidence. Once more, the RRP crashes to the floor in disorientation, then it acknowledges its defeat and follows, follows Dr. Witold Finkelstein to the left, around the table... while uttering loud, inarticulate cries, still and all. The first serious victory has been won, seemingly without a direct result, but Rembrandt spies with a cruel pleasure the little, stealthy cracks which are appearing in the gleaming varnish behind which the RRP hides. Thus the researchers begin to stutter, one by one, they tangle their tongue on the word authenticity, in particular: Au, au, au, au, au… and their once eminent, scientific discussions degenerate into banal quarreling: Real! False! Real! False! Real! False! Coffee cups and potted plants fly through the air in the office. Dr. Witold Finkelstein observes them with invisible, wicked glee.

The next step is the conversion of their loud, inarticulate cries into a powerful. Splendid slogan. No sooner said than done, and at the next ritual table dance, to the left as though it was never done otherwise, Dr. Witold Finkelstein drowns out the barking and screaming of the RRP with an angry /Rembrandt! and yet again, Rembrandt! Rembrandt! stunned, they fall silent around him and the whole mob is almost at the pint of falling again. Hesitantly, they attempt to take back up their loud, inarticulate cries, but Dr. Witold Finkelstein is there immediately with his Rembrandt! Rembrandt! and this time, he doesn’t stop: Rembrandt! Rembrandt! Rembrandt! Rembrandt! And, yes, first softly, then progressively louder, they join in. Rembrandt! Rembrandt! sounds, finally, in a deafening chorus. He’s got them. Rembrandt! Rembrandt!// Now there's no way back.

But there is still that disturbing motto, framed above the door, to which the eyes of the workers so often wander during the day, searching for inspiration. One day. Dr. Witold Finkelstein climbs pontifically up onto a chair and pulls it down. He does it as if it is the most normal thing in the world. From his suit coat pocket, he pulls a tile upon which he has painted some neutral ornamentation and a text, in soft pink, the evening before: Better a couple of Rembrandts too much than one Rembrandt too few. He hangs it, climbs down and looks around: all eyes are fixed on high in drooling and only the sound of the little refrigerator is still audible. Repressing his enjoyment, Dr.Witold Finkelstein leaves – It’s five o'clock, the working day is finished - with his usual Good day, everyone.

Home, and under the shower. Rembrandt realises that the moment of truth has now come, the suspense is at its peak. He feels strange, empty and full at the same time. So, up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire... A drink ? Well, why not. The following day, after his Good day, everyone, he curiously tests the waters. The tile is still hanging! Eyes which feast on it! It’s finished, the preparations are finished!

Dr. Witold Finkelstein is suddenly nauseous, but recovers with equal suddenness. The hour and moment of Rembrandt is near. The checking of the sum. By the way, how many Rembrandts do you think that there will actually be at the turn of the century? Dr. Witold Finkelstein asks this, in a quasi nonchalant tone, of the colleague sitting opposite him.
Out it comes, in fits and starts: at the turn of the century, the number of Rambrandts will have at least quintupled. Said is said. Something has triumphed over something else. Hurray, hurray. If, previously, each Rembrandt couldn't be a Rembrandt, from now on every painting can be a Rembrandt. Rembrandt! Rembrandt! the office begins chanting, spontaneously.

Dr. Witold Finkelstein is suddenly very tired, but the day passes... And a new one comes. Rembrandt stays home. Dr. Witold Finkelstein is sick. The intoxication of victory gives way to ordinary doubt: Who has won what ?What shall he do now, ever? He has battled with his bookkeepers and showed himself to be brilliant, but isn't it a crazy world, in which going to the left or the right is the decisive thing? The artist looks in the mirror, sees the grimace of Dr. Witold Finkelstein.