A Man seated reading at a Table in a Lofty Room
Around 1628-30 by a follower of Rembrandt
The National Gallery
Until recently it was thought that this painting was in fact by Rembrandt, from his early years in Leiden, The Netherlands where he grew up with the region’s characteristic style of painting. However, the style is thought to be too heavy-handed, despite the likeness in detail and use of dramatic lighting, and has been attributed to most probably one of his followers or even contemporaries. We can see from postcard three, one of his drawings, the detail and time Rembrandt took over his work; this painting’s window, with the detail of its leaded panes, are softer in line than his characteristic clarity. Nonetheless, this is a triumphant painting that draws in the eye through its composition of extremes – light, perhaps the most beautifully emphatic tool in painting, is truly taken advantage of. The shadowy and obscuring darkness takes forefront in the composition opposed to the more usual background of shadow; it curls up and round the lit focal-point like smoke gradually drowning a room. The distance does not fade out but comes into being, as light is drawn from the back of this painting. It is an interesting juxtaposition of space and our sense of three-dimensionality, the darkness almost creating a window of literal and symbolic uncertainty that we must look through. Yet, despite this obscuring, the painting is calm, the darkness proving not terrifying but an impactful contrast to the beautiful quality of light that falls through the window. The light is pale yet warm; thin yet powerful, possessing an illumination that is as subtle as it is suggestively mystic. The painter has clearly captured the illusionary influence light can have on its subject. The simplistic beauty of reflection and shadow is caught in the patterns cast upon the wall; they appear awesome against the small silhouette of a man in his cap, quietly reading.