Rembrandt exhibited at the Vatican

by Jaime de Bourbon de Parme

This is a historic exhibition. The works of the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn have never before been exhibited at the Vatican.

It is a magnificent yet intimate display of dozens of etchings, with the painting Bust of an Old Man with Turban, on loan from the Kremer Collection, as the pièce de résistance. Two etching plates from this Dutch collection will also be on display. We found resultant prints in the Zorn collection that will be exhibited alongside. This bridges both collections. But there is another reason that this exhibition merits the label ‘historic’. Next year, we will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Art is never experienced in a vacuum, and this is particularly true for the work of Rembrandt. He touches the heart and inspires people to reflect on the relationship between God and man. In this way the exhibition, which represents a blend of Catholic and Protestant influences, can help foster a sense of unity among Christians. At the time that Rembrandt was in Leiden working on Bust of an Old Man with Turban, his hometown was the scene of a struggle between liberal and more orthodox Protestant denominations. The stringent town council allowed little freedom for dissent. In that stifling climate the young Rembrandt sought to transcend his artistic boundaries. He was 21 years old when he finally put his monogram ‘RHL’ on the wet paint of the panel, putting the last touch on a skilful work that would become the centrepiece of the first Rembrandt exhibition at the Vatican four centuries later. Rembrandt was not thinking of exhibitions then. For him the painting was an opportunity to practise techniques such as expression and the interplay of light and shade. When Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1632 he found himself in a haven for freethinkers and merchants, and it was not long before his prodigious talents revealed themselves. Until his death Rembrandt belonged to the amateurs (liefhebbers) of the Reformed Religion, but he refrained from using his work to engage in factional religious polemics. Despite this complex relationship with the church, his biblical scenes reveal a deep religious knowledge. Rembrandt was a well­read man, and his etchings could only be the work of an artist with insight into Scripture. Rembrandt was a deep thinker, and time and again he showed a gift for interpreting stories from the Bible with his original imagery. Over the centuries this quality has won the appreciation of Christians—Catholics and Protestants alike. Today, promoting unity among Christians is also one of the priorities of the Catholic Church. The Pope’s presence at an ecumenical service with the Lutherans in the Swedish city of Lund, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, underscores this. The Pope is actively cultivating better relations with the Orthodox, Coptic and Protestant churches. This exhibition symbolises the spirit of peace and serenity that pervades today’s efforts at ecumenical outreach. It is a form of cultural expression that crosses not only religious lines but also national borders. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my Swedish colleague, Lars­Hjalmar Wide, for inviting me into this collaborative project. I would also like to thank Johan Cederlund for the many etchings he made available from the Zorn Museum and for the wonderful catalogue he put together for this exhibition. I would like to offer my particular thanks to the Dutch individuals and institutions that helped to make this exhibition possible: George and Ilone Kremer, for altruistically making their Rembrandt available; the Mauritshuis, for its expert advice; and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and our colleagues at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Rome for their generous contribution. I also owe a debt of gratitude to His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; His Eminence Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governatorato; and to Professor Antonio Paolucci and Barbara Jatta, the director and deputy director of the Vatican Museums, for their valuable support for this project. Finally, I would also like to thank Professor Arnold Nesselrath and his staff members, Micol Forti and Andrea Carignani, at the Vatican Museums for their inspiring management of this project. Previous cultural exchanges between the Netherlands and the Holy See have been a success. Last winter, in close collaboration with the Vatican Museums, an exhibition was organised at De Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam on Rome and the rise of Christianity. We are pleased that this partnership is now continuing with the arrival of this great Dutch master at the Vatican.


Jaime de Bourbon de Parme Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Holy See

Category: Diplotimes