Rembrandt, 1650, Etching and drypoint on laid paper
Overall: 2 5/8 x 7 in. (6.7 x 17.8 cm)
Gift of Jean K. Weil in memory of Adolph Weil Jr., Class of 1935, PR.997.5.99
The second moment of Rembrandt’s landscape etching production manifested a fascination with making quotidian Amsterdam and the ordinary Dutch landscape his predominant subject, a choice that leaves many of these images without a central focus. As a result, the viewer experiences a rich sense of the totality of the landscape, and its seemingly infinite nature as it pertains to its inhabitants. In this etching, a laboring man on the far right, rendered as insignificant in size compared to the grandiosity of the landscape as a whole, carries two milk buckets, a loyal dog following beside him. His surroundings recede into generality behind him, perhaps suggesting a fog as well as the seemingly infinite nature of the Dutch landscape. The work also speaks to the Dutch people’s unique relationship with their terrain; an extensive land reclamation project in the Netherlands resulted in the development of drainage systems powered by the now-iconic Dutch windmills. The Dutch did not simply conquer territory: they created it. With such a direct connection to the land, and in the absence of a feudal system, Dutch families often worked on their own farms, and subsequently developed an intimate association with the Dutch countryside. Here, despite the milkman’s small figural size, the vast breadth of land before him suggests that he is not overwhelmed by the land, but rather interfused with it. In this etching, Rembrandt seemingly ties multiple elements together to form a cohesive narrative between nature and humanity, from the vegetation to the domestic architecture to the lightly sketched boats floating on the water in the background.