Van Loon’s portrait of Rembrandt merges two romantic conceptions of the artist: The first is a view of the artist as an unappreciated genius undervalued by a fickle public, and the second is a conception of the artist as one who cannot cope with the practical concerns of daily life. Thus, Van Loon accounts for Rembrandt’s difficulties in his later years by a combination of Rembrandt’s integrity as a painter unwilling or unable to conform to the shallow tastes of the public and of his inability to manage his financial and personal affairs. This interpretation makes Rembrandt both hero and victim and gives the reader of any age a reason to care about him.
Although knowledgeable readers may presume Rembrandt’s greatness, Van Loon utilizes several narrative techniques to gain his audience’s appreciation for the artist’s work. The most important method may be the use of the sensitive and intelligent narrator, Joannis, to testify to the worth of Rembrandt’s paintings. In addition, Van Loon creates dialogue in which Rembrandt describes his own vision of particular works. Finally, reproductions of selected paintings and etchings allow readers to form their own opinions. These strategies convince readers both of Rembrandt’s greatness and of the injustice of the reception given his later works.
For example, Van Loon sees Rembrandt’s acclaimed The Nightwatch (1642), a painting of a company of military volunteers, as a turning point in the artist’s career. In the biography, Rembrandt is shown displaying the work to an amazed and...
(The entire section is 642 words.)