Westermann vs. Rembrandt vs. Berger

The Night’s Watch by Rembrandt

Berger is definitely concerned with the historical aspects of Rembrandt’s painting.  Whereas, Grootenbuer is more concerned with the formal elements of the painting and the artistic style of the painting.  Grootenbuer decides to address the painting through a lens thats “transcends the notion of theatre”(323).  Berger more is concerned that the painting does not give an accurate depiction of what war would have been like during this time. It is not realistic and does not show gory details. It exhibits a more fanatical and a dramatized version. The angels and the in the painting and the men standing tall and smiling who look perfectly groomed do not resemble a country that is in war or thinking about going into battle. I am curious if the men during this time were actually concerned about the war or not. I wonder if Rembrandt made a realistic depiction of how the men actually were when they were preparing for battle, not concerned at all and joking around about their plans. It does seem as though according to this article that Holland was doing quite well among other nations during this time. As Berger states “Since this was based in the cities and towns of the province of Holland, the Republic was compelled not only to tolerate Holland’s unruliness, but also to promote and protect its mercantile ventures. From the 1580s on, and really within the next two decades, the merchant elites in the cities of Holland came to dominate world trade”. Grooteenbuer was more interested in addressing the extent to which the formal elements in a painting to can reveal the overall meaning, and what the theatrical elements and facial expressions of painting can exhibit.

The tone of the voice of the Berger is curious and inquisitive. Berger is first curious if the depiction fo the soldiers is accurate. Then, he considers the history and decides that the depiction of the men that Rembrandt created is an accurate depiction of the men during this time period under these circumstances of dispute amongst other countries. The tone of voice of Grootenbuer is also curious and inquisitive but is more formal and scholarly. Grootenbuer’s points are more backed up with research and other scholarly articles and authors. 

Westermann’s book reads and writes like a traditional textbook or information book. Whereas Grootenbuer is formal but is more analytical and reads like a journal. Furthermore, Berger less formal and reads more as an article that wants to be readable for all audiences and not just for students or other scholars that are looking to writing about Dutch paintings for this time period and formal analysis. 

Later on in the article Berger begins to discuss marriages during this time.This relates back to Westermann’s article how the wives’ portraits were placed on the left side of the husbands’ portraits for reasons of inferiority within the marriage. While Berger is describing the political climate of Europe during this time period, she mentions how the “Reformation sent mixed signals about the wife’s place.” She explains that marriages were consensual rather than arranged. This means that the inferiority that Westermann discusses in her article may not have gone on more than placement of the portraits. If the love was mutual why would men want their wives to be viewed as below them in society? Maybe, it was also a standard of society to be superior to your wife. 


3 thoughts on “Westermann vs. Rembrandt vs. Berger

  1. You’ve noticed a key difference between Berger and Grootenboer. G. is articulating a more theoretical framework through which to understand portraits of this era in general, whereas Berger is interested in interpreting one painting within its own historical context, using that context to unlock questions in particular gestures and actions in the painting–which may or may not represent “accurate” militia behavior. He does seem to side with other scholars that it is accurate in that it depicts a decline in militias’ readiness and actual engagement in drilling, etc. (as reprinted by their fumbled handling of guns): in that sense, Rembrandt was critiquing the militias, if mildly, by this argument. But notice that Berger also is concerned with the ways that portrait painting can never be “accurate” in that it always represents a version of a pose, and not even the real life pose it supposedly captures. In this, perhaps he has more in common with Grootenboer, in that both share a sense that portraits are always and can only be staged. What do you think G. winds up showing us about portraits’ theatricality? What does she mean by the term and how might it apply to any of Berger’s ideas?


  2. The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642, oil on canvas, 11′ 11″ x 14′ 4″
    ^ this should be italicized it will not let me on a comment.


  3. I would also like to learn more about Dutch culture in this time period concerning marriage. I think simply because a marriage is not arranged does not mean it is based on love, but it does indeed give women more power. Your question at the end is one still relevant today and I think the answer is that men often take pride in feeling superior to their wives and that it was simply assumed at the time of this painting that men were better than women. Men in this era wanted women to be beneath them so they could be categorized as objects and thus a possession as opposed to a mere partner.


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