Rembrandt's Whore

Overview

Immortalized in many of his greatest works of portraiture, Hendrickje Stoffels was Rembrandt's common law wife—and it is through her eyes, in this beautifully realized and well-researched novel, that we are plunged into the midst of both a passionate affair and a turbulent era of Dutch history. With writing as careful and subtle as the master's paintings, Rembrandt's Whore combines all the qualities of a naturalist tragedy, historical novel, and exposition of 17th-century Dutch society. To listen to Hendrickje is...

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Overview

Immortalized in many of his greatest works of portraiture, Hendrickje Stoffels was Rembrandt's common law wife—and it is through her eyes, in this beautifully realized and well-researched novel, that we are plunged into the midst of both a passionate affair and a turbulent era of Dutch history. With writing as careful and subtle as the master's paintings, Rembrandt's Whore combines all the qualities of a naturalist tragedy, historical novel, and exposition of 17th-century Dutch society. To listen to Hendrickje is to share Rembrandt's life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Matton uses the woman who served as Rembrandt's emotional anchor to explore the tumultuous second half of the artist's life in this fascinating novel. Twenty-year-old Hendrickje Stoffels makes the journey from her Dutch village to Amsterdam to model for the famous painter, who is 43 as the novel opens. The modeling job turns into a lifelong affair that produces a child, Titus but when Rembrandt refuses a marriage request from Stoffels's predecessor, Stoffels is condemned and labeled a whore by the Catholic Church. Their love goes far beyond the physical realm, however, and it is the young woman who ends up caring for the painter, protecting him from his voracious creditors and the Amsterdam politicians who would exploit his formidable talent. Matton hits some rough stretches in the early going as she bounces back and forth between Stoffels's first-person observations of Rembrandt, the politics of the era and the effect of the plague on Amsterdam. But things smooth out once she gets past their initial liaisons, and the plague becomes a de facto character in the background as Rembrandt struggles to consolidate his artistic legacy. Matton could have speculated more about what Stoffels may have known about Rembrandt's artistic inspirations, but overall this is a fascinating, illuminating look at the pressures he faced in the later stages of his life. Despite the tantalizing gaps in this unusual character study, the distinctive conceit and Matton's ability to follow through on it make this a noteworthy book. (May 20) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Financial insecurity and the Plague hover threateningly over the great artist and his beloved servant, narrator of this sad and obtuse tale. In 1649, a girl named Hendrickje Stoffels arrived in Amsterdam as a servant in the household of the master painter Rembrandt. Stoffels was a real person, used here by Matton in a fictional memoir from Stoffels's perspective. The luxury of the big city is an adjustment for the girl-"For the first time in my life, I'm not going to sleep sitting up." At 20, she's a quick study, fits smoothly into the household's workings, and is soon modeling for the master. With little fanfare, she also becomes Rembrandt's lover and muse. But as Rembrandt's fortunes decline, the outside world also begins to intrude on their happy home. The Plague is ever-present, with Stoffels's country superstitions about it peppering the narrative. After she gives birth to a girl, she is known throughout the fickle city as "Rembrandt's whore," and when the artist's debts force him into bankruptcy, society circles in closer, buying up his possessions at a humiliating auction. Meanwhile, the number of dead rises daily. Descriptions of life in 17th-century Amsterdam are sensuous and vivid, but Stoffels's episodic story does too little to create tension or a sense of attachment to the characters. The girl's love for Rembrandt is well rendered, but through her rose-colored view we see little of the real man. Characters enter and exit with little consequence, while so important a detail as the first romantic encounter between Rembrandt and Stoffels gets little prominence. A grimly amusing theme is Stoffels's insistence-widely believed at the time-that cats and dogs were responsible for thePlague, but that rats were helpful killers of other vermin and should be spared. Fans of Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring may snatch this one up, but in truth it seems less suited for a general audience than for Rembrandt enthusiasts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781841953229
  • Publisher: Canongate UK
  • Publication date: 4/10/2003
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 198
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Sylvia Matton is the author of a previous novel, L'Econduite. With her husband, the artist and filmmaker Charles Matton, she worked for two years on a feature-length film on the life of Rembrandt.

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