Tags: rembrandt | riddles

Film to Unravel Rembrandt Riddles

Thursday, 06 Sep 2007 04:21 PM

VENICE -- British director Peter Greenaway attempts to unravel the riddles surrounding Rembrandt and one of his most famous paintings in a new film, suggesting foul play was behind his slide into penury.

"Nightwatching" is a story about how Rembrandt's picture of the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia, known as the "Night Watch", came to be commissioned, and explores what secrets Rembrandt may have revealed in the masterpiece.

The painting has perplexed art historians for centuries, and Greenaway said his theory was as valid as any other.

"Of course there have been lots and lots of theories, but we would like in this film to offer you another theory," Greenaway told reporters in Venice, where the movie is in the main competition at the film festival.

"There's no such thing as history, there's only historians. I can't prove to you every single fact, but you can't disprove it either."

He said there were at least 51 "mysteries" in the painting, including the young girl or dwarf in a crowd of men, the significance of the musket being fired, whether the two main men were having an affair and whether the man in the background, with one eye showing, was a self-portrait by the artist.

In the film, Rembrandt reluctantly accepts a commission to paint the pompous musketeers, but weaves into his work accusations of murder while sending up their airs and graces.

The movie hypothesizes that the equivalent of the "nightclub crowd" of 17th Century Amsterdam sought to ruin Rembrandt as revenge by sullying his reputation and trying to blind him.


Greenaway said he wondered why Rembrandt, successful during his own lifetime, had descended into poverty after the Night Watch was completed in the 1640s.

"Fifteen years late he was a pauper, he was bankrupt. It's always been very, very difficult to explain this riches-to-rags story," said Greenaway.

The director said his film was about art itself, and why painters and film makers sought to create the illusion that what they were portraying was real.

In "Nightwatching", Greenaway uses theatrical sets and lighting techniques that recall the masterpieces of 17th Century Northern European art.

Rembrandt is played by Briton Martin Freeman, most famous for his portrayal of Tim in the hit TV comedy "The Office".

With plenty of swearing, nudity and bawdy behavior, the film tries to demystify the character of Rembrandt.

"I think that the sense of humor is quite important to bring to this character," he said. "It prevents him from being the great tortured artist who is somehow ... from another planet."

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