Rembrandt, luminosity, and the contribution of our gifts

Today, a visit to the Rembrandt exhibition at London’s National Gallery – a shimmering introduction to the work of a man who so clearly loved human beings and was deeply interested in understanding human life, emotion, and meaning in all their shades of light and dark, joy and suffering.

Such love for the world is much needed and yet, I think, for most of us very difficult to cultivate. Cynicism, judgement, resignation and despair about others (and about ourselves) are far easier for us to maintain. They are safer moods, less questioning, and with far less of a call on us to be open, vulnerable and affected by life than that called upon by love.

Walking from room to room, it was impossible to escape the sense that exploring and expressing this love and wonder was the point of Rembrandt’s life. Even in the midst of repeated personal tragedy, financial ruin, the ridicule of his peers and critics and his long fall from fame – even in the midst of all this, he never stopped painting.

The room with his very last works, completed very shortly before his death and when his personal life had fallen apart, was the most luminous and transcendent and generous of them all. A powerful reminder of what it is to dedicate life to the whole-hearted contribution of our gifts. And how different from a life in which all our effort is expended trying to have things work out for us just the way we want them to.

Image: Self-portrait with two circles, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1669
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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