25 November 2012

The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt Reproduced in Original Size

Dover books are great. I will cover my (few) Doré books from Dover in a future post, but for now, let's look at my latest reason to love Dover books. In my opinion, all books should start with a chapter titled "A note on this book". It's like this book was written for me. As the title suggests, this book contains all known etchings by Rebrandt, and reproduced in original size, too. Since there are quite a few of these etchings, there are several different cataloguing systems for them, and the most widely used one, the Bartsch system, has both pros and cons, and all this is explained in the introductory note, as well as some notes on how the book itself is organized. After this, there is a chronology of Rembrandt's life, a short introduction to how etching was done during Rembrandt's time, and a note on the literature of his etchings. So that's the text done with, next come the pictures!

There's somewhere between 300 and 400 etchings, but I don't know the exact number. They are numbered, but a number of etchings in the Bartsch system have later been discovered not to be by Rembrandt, so they are not included in this book, making holes in the numbering. Also, on some of the plates there are actually several pictures, but since they were all done on the same etching plate, they have just one Bartsch number. And finally, I can't be bothered to actually count them. The etchings are sorted into categories. Again, we have Mr. Bartsch to thank for this, and this means they aren't in chronological order. Every plate is accompanied with a text stating its Bartsch number, title, state of impression, dating, etc. The quality is very nice, since all the etchings are reproduced from the actual etchings, except for six, that are reproduced from photographs. In addition, 15 etchings are so large that they didn't fit in the book. These are printed in reduced version inside the book, and in original size in the folded sheets found in an envelope in the back of the book. They're printed on both side of the sheets, but in such a way that you can cut them out withouth destroying one side, if you want.

Many of the etchings, especially his self portraits, are surpisingly small. There are a number of sketches and studies of peasants and beggars that are really little more than what you'd find scrawled in a sketchbook, and the fact that they're etchings is very interesting. Did he take his etching plate out for a sketch day? The book doesn't offer a lot of info on what the etchings were for, except for a few that were obviously commissioned portraits.

This is a book that you can flip through many times and still find something new to look at. Rembrandt's skill is unquestionable. The amount of fine detail and modeling is amazing. The variety is also astounding, from intimate portraits to genre pieces, to epic history compositions. From scratchy sketches all the way to fully modeled pictures. When I think of Rembrandt I usually think about brush work and impasto, but this book really drives home the point of Rembrandt as a picture maker. Nearly 400 pictures, and every one of them a master composition.

But the etchings are obviously amazing, it is Rembrandt we're talking about after all. What I really want to stress is that this is a really great book, for a great price. I do have one criticism, though. When a book spends so much time in the beginning talking about how important it is to get the reproductions directly from the prints themselves, and print them on the right paper, and in the right size, you expect the print job to be top notch. And for the vast majority of the book it is, the pictures are very clear and clean. But on a few pages it seems like they were running out of ink, both the text and the pictures are a lighter shade of gray, instead of black. I assume that's not something to happens to every individual book in a print run, so it might just be me that got unlucky with my copy. But it's a bit disappointing, even if it's not actaully that bad in the end.

But some gray pages aside, this is still a book definitely worth getting. The amount of great pictures you get for the price you pay is, as is usual with Dover books, high.

The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt
Reproduced in Original Size
Soft Cover, over 200 pages
Paper quality is a glossy, but quite thin paper
ISBN-13: 978-0-486-28181-0
ISBN-10: 0-486-28181-7

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