"Rembrandt is so high in the ranking of great artists that our amassed reverence has sunk like syrup into the brown and gold surface of his paintings", begins Jonathan Jones's review of the National Gallery's Late Rembrandt show. It's one of the worst lines I've read in an exhibition review, but I sympathise with Jones's plight. Rembrandt is an artist who packs a real emotional punch that's rare in the visual arts. Seeing his late masterpieces in Kassel and Braunschweig (Brunswick, but sounds so much better in German) were memorably emotional moments for me. The problem that Jones unwittingly illustrates is that it's so hard to convey that power credibly, without sounding a bit ridiculous.
There are other artists I admire enormously who don't have anything like the same emotional appeal. I feel the difference, but I struggle to articulate it. Maybe it needs a poet rather than an art historian. I tend to fall back on more neutral descriptive tropes that seem inadequate to Rembrandt's genius. Maybe I should stop fearing my own absurdity and reach for the syrup.
Apropos of poetry and art history, I recently read a wonderful book of poems based on pictures at the National Gallery written by a poet who is also an art historian. I don't read much poetry, but I enjoyed Lynn Roberts's A Brush with Poetry immensely. Perhaps she will be able to do a better job of conveying Rembrandt's magic.