Rembrandt Vs Vermeer: The Titans of Dutch Painting

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(For a list of all paintings referenced by Simon Schama and Tracy Chevalier in this debate please go to: https://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/rembrandt-vs-vermeer-titans-of-dutch-painting-simon-schama-tracy-chevalier/

Rembrandt van Rijn is the best known of all the Dutch masters. His range was vast, from landscapes to portraits to Biblical scenes; he revolutionised every medium he handled, from oil paintings to etchings and drawings. His vision encompassed every element of life – the sleeping lion; the pissing baby; the lacerated soles of the returned prodigal son.

Making the case for him in this debate was Simon Schama. For him Rembrandt is humanity unedited: rough, raw, violent, manic, vain, greedy and manipulative. Formal beauty was the least of his concerns, argues Schama, yet he attains beauty through his understanding of the human condition, including to be sure, his own.

But for novelist Tracy Chevalier it can all get a little exhausting. Rembrandt’s paintings, she believes – even those that are not his celebrated self-portraits – are all about himself. Championing Vermeer, she will claim that his charm lies in the very fact that he absents himself from his paintings. As a result they are less didactic and more magical than Rembrandt’s, giving the viewer room to breathe.

The debate was chaired by art historian , broadcaster and Director of Artistic Programmes at the Royal Academy Tim Marlow.

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