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                                                                       The Rembrant Search Party

                                                                a collection of articles devoted to Rembrandt's name
                                                                           and signatures, with glimpses of other artists'
                                                                                                  signatures and related topics.

This is an educational, non-commercial site.

                     How this Site Came to Be


Jean-Marie Clarke - Philosophe en méditationThis website presents some of the results of an informal Rembrandt research project begun in 1976 while I was a graduate student in art history at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). I had chosen Rembrandt's Philosopher in meditation (ca. 1632, Bredius 431) in the Musée du Louvre as the topic of my master's thesis.  Although it seemed like a limited topic to most people, by the time I had earned my MA, I knew that I had much more work to do and that it would have to be done outside of academia. I wanted to think not just in art-historical but also in psychological, philosophical, and visual terms to find out how this picture worked (and how the minds of its beholders worked).  In 1978, cultural studies were not yet an option. 

Having grown up bilingual in France and the USA, I  became a free-lance translator of art books, working on my Rembrandt research and photography during the off-periods. My research strategy was to read whatever I could find in the Rembrandt literature that seemed remotely connected to my intuitions and ideas.  In 1986, the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) published the second volume of its Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, which unexpectedly demoted "my" painting to a non-Rembrandt (C 51). Since I seemed to be the best person for the job, the Louvre assigned me to write an article on this unexpected development. My findings, published in the Revue du Louvre (1990, no. 3), finally cast more doubts on the RRP's methodology than on the painting itself, which must be considered a key work in Rembrandt's career, if more in the private than in the public realm. 

An upshot of the disattribution was that I began looking more closely at Rembrandt's signatures, an area that proved to be thorny and confusing. There was little reliable information, and signs of identity such as signatures seemed to be an inherently problematic topic. One day I was looking at a detail of the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) and discovered that the navel of the corpse seemed to have been given the shape of the letter "R".  This led me to consider the attention that Rembrandt himself had devoted to his name and signature(s), especially in the period 1631-1633, which led to his definitive formulation: "Rembrandt f.[ecit]".  Another day, in the 1990s, I saw the special shape of Rembrandt's "R" providing the  basic form of the composition of several works from this same period. All of my efforts since then involved trying to make sense of these observations and finding a conceptual framework for them. The verbal-visual "opposition" turned out to be a false lead, because it was not as entrenched in 17th-century Holland as it is in our time. The most promising direction for an explanation of such phenomena lies in neurocognitive research.

I wrote my findings down in 1995 in a manuscript titled THE REMBRANT SEARCH PARTY (the name I had given this project in 1988), updating it in 2004 and completing it in 2006.

In 1991 I had moved from Paris to Hamburg and made a seamless transition to my own artwork (performance, installation, process work, photography). One process work titled OZONE STATION PROJECT (1993-2000) led to a model of human-consciousness-as-medium that bypasses the confusion resulting from pseudo-problems such as the abovementioned word-image opposition. To create an identity covering all my activities, I decided to call myself a "denkmaler," a term that, among other things,  means "thought-painter," and that I have translated for better or worse as artistorian. Rembrandt's 400th birthday seemed the perfect occasion (and the internet the perfect medium) to make this work accessible to a larger audience in an informative, thought-provoking and, hopefully, entertaining form.

Jean-Marie Clarke

Staufen im Breisgau

April 1, 2006


Then chief curator of Netherlandish Painting at the Musée du Louvre, Jacques Foucart,

examines Rembrandt's Philosopher in meditation out of its frame in 1990 (photo: JMC)  


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