Despite his graduation from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1987, and a successive art practise including several international art projects, painter René Klarenbeek has always felt lacking in his artistic education, technical knowledge and pictorial skills. So it had become due time to take action, by looking for an appropriate master painter for some successive schooling. In the autumn of 2004 the REMBRANDT PUPIL PROJECT was inaugurated with the aim to fill in this gap by studying master Rembrandt’s originals. Although he was separated from his self-sought master by some centuries in time, this contemporary pupil submitted himself to the same study program which his 17th century predecessors had once followed in Rembrandt’s studio. From that moment on, over the course of several years, he visited and worked in situ in various international museums and collections. Many inspiring original Rembrandt paintings and drawings were intensely studied and reconstructed by this 20th (currently 21st) century pupil. Please visit www.rembrandtpupil.com for a detailed (but incomplete) report of the project.
Being separated from his master by some centuries, pupil Klarenbeek needs to be able to rely on his own imagination to work in line with his master’s intentions. Although an artist, being the ultimate autodidact, will never be finished educating himself in expanding his knowledge and skills, in the case of René Klarenbeek, his master Rembrandt decided in the course of 2011 that was time for the ultimate test. As a personal and fitting graduation assignment Rembrandt gave him the task to produce a series of large history paintings on specific classical subjects. This is how the art project CONTERFEYTER was born.
In the hierarchy of the different skills and specialisms for 17th century painters, the HISTORIEN SCHILDER (history painter) had to combine all possible categories, like portraits, single and multiple figures, still lifes, animals, nudes, interiors, exteriors and also landscapes into his works of art. That is why the history painter was considered the highest in rank amongst his colleagues, who usually were focussing on just one or two specialisms. Next to his all round technical skills and widespread visual and narrative imagination, a history painter was considered to be just as much a true craftsman as a studied scholar. Apart from extensive knowledge of the important scriptures of not only the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, ancient and current historical events, he was also expected to be aware of military, noble, royal and religious hierarchies and decorum, geology, geography, philosophy, poetica, music etc. Just as much as he was considered to have studied the great works of art produced by generations of important history painters before him. This rather humble but obligatory awareness of the grand tradition was fully in line with the aims of IMITATIO, which, of course when strengthened with sufficient innovative artistic ambition, could and should lead to AEMULATIO: surpassing the great masters of the past.
Naer ‘t leven
Before the invention of photography, only human hands were able to produce visual reproductions, such as drawings, paintings and graphic prints. In the 17th century, visual artists were considered to study all aspects of the ZICHTBAERE WERELT (the visual world) around them quite comprehensively in order to reproduce nature truthfully in their images. Undoubtedly, the main and most stubborn representative of working NAER ‘T LEVEN (imitating life) was of course Rembrandt, who explicitly trained his pupils in the same strict manner. Even in case the artist had to work from his visual memory (VAN ‘T ONTHOUT), in which Rembrandt was eqyally skilled, artists like him insisted on following the truths of nature. Rembrandt’s faithful and unaltered reproduction of what he observed around him, whether proper to the then current standards of beauty and decorum or not, caused him to be criticised by some contemporaries as SLAAF VAN DE NATUER (slave of nature). These critics saw the surrounding and observable nature merely as imperfect and even ugly – and therefore preferred an adjusted and more idealised translation when portrayed into works of art.
Conterfeyter / Counterfeiter
The long forgotten, but in the 17th century commonly used, word ‘conterfeyter’ represents what in our time is called a portrait painter. Although the term ‘contefeytsel’ was generally used for a portrait, in Rembrandt’s time it could also be generally used for a depiction of any specific subject. Even if the subject would be the painter himself, in which case this self-portrait used to be called ‘conterfeytsel naer hemzelve’.
Interestingly, to our ears the word ‘conterfeyter’ sounds quite similar to our contemporary ‘counterfeiter’, which of course is a fraudulent deceiver. But the difference between the two definitions appears to be smaller than one would expect. Basically, any well painted ‘contefeytsel’ will be able to deceive the eye in at least seeing three dimensions on a two dimensional surface. By effectively both following as well as ‘forging’ our mutually known reality, a good ‘conterfeyter’ should be able to translate the visible and create, manipulate or forge a new reality, in an attempt to uncover what lies beneath the already known.
In his CONTERFEYTER project, René Klarenbeek intends to follow his master’s example in producing large-scale history paintings on classical, but nonetheless universal, themes. Just like his 17th century fellow Rembrandt pupils, in whose work it was always possible to tell who had trained them, also his painting style has also evolved in its own direction, and will continue to do so.
In this growing series of new history paintings, appropriate models are cast to act in contemporary stagings of specific 17th century subjects. The similarities and contradictions between the invited actors/actresses and their performed characters provide successive interpretive layers in the scenes of these history paintings, making these mutually agreed upon scenes just as interesting for them as for the painter. Although none of the invited actors/actresses will be acting in more than one painting, only the painter himself will be the permanent ‘steady’ in every scene. Despite the range of changing subjects, basically all art works can be seen as self-portraits of the maker. Within this growing series of new history paintings, the accumulation of different, sometimes contradicting, appearances of the painter in the different scenes will cumulate in a rather complex series of ‘conterfeytsels naer hemzelve’.