What people have said about the author's books:
"Uyttenhove's writing style is similar to the interpretation of art itself: varied and personal, yet unifying and global, all in one fell swoop. A study of arts role in society and how its apprized historically, culturally and individually, Uyttenhove's book is essentially an examination of how people across the globe, and from all walks of life, are willing to risk their lives for art." Omar Figueras, The US Review of Books
"What I liked best about this fiction story is the balance between intellect, emotion and action. The story is well informed about art, the business of art and the operation of art museums internationally. It gave me new reasons to care about art and admire professionals in various occupations related to the business side of art. At the same time, there was danger and suspense throughout, giving me that edge of the seat feeling. " Citizen John, Amazon.com
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By HUGO UYTTENHOVE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 HUGO UYTTENHOVE
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAmsterdam A morning in February 1647
THE NURSEMAID HAD given up trying to keep the children quiet as she feared the displeasure of her master who was still in bed and did not want to get up any time soon. In the middle of the winter the sun didn't come up until half past eight. It was rare for children to be outside at this time as they would normally be sitting around a small stove with its red potbelly warming up the single schoolroom. On this Sunday morning, before church services in the Reformed Church, Titus, the master's spoiled child had been begging to go outside. From his bedroom window on the second floor, overlooking the Breestraat near the Jewish Quarter, Titus had noticed the guard with a small lantern walking far away to the left of their mansion, not on the street, but on the gracht in front of the St. Antoniusstraat. Titus had heard his father mention a few weeks before that when a guard walks the canals, it meant only one thing: it was so cold that the water was frozen and people would be walking on the canal. It didn't happen every winter, but this year, there was a good chance because the wind kept coming from the north. Seeing the guard on the canal, Titus had gotten so excited that by eight o'clock he was already putting skates on his little boots, tightening them with leather straps. Geertje let him out to join the other children, and soon they were all skating, bumping into each other and falling, causing them to shriek and laugh loudly with their sounds traveling easily to van Rijn's bedroom.
Geertje Dircx did not have much patience this morning, not with the child and not with her master. She told the children repeatedly to keep it down, but having no command over them but one, the other children from the neighborhood felt free to skate up and down the canal, going under the bridges they usually crossed on their way to school. The cries of joy were unstoppable. It was a pure children's paradise without adult supervision and with the freedom to skate away from their neighborhoods since the canals connected vast areas of the city. Geertje had told one of the older girls to tell Titus to come back in the house when the church bells announced half past nine. She would have to get him ready for the ten o'clock service, providing his father would also be ready. Back inside the house, Geertje was going through a chest of jackets and picked the one Titus would wear for the services. She didn't particularly mind making noise because she wanted the master to get up. She called his name a few times, but he had the pillow wrapped around his head to drown out the noise from the canal.
She collected the other Sunday clothes for the boy and went into the master's bedroom. Even though the room was cold, she knew that the master was warm in the small bed, lying on the soft cotton mattress and covered with several layers of wool blankets. Although he had a large fireplace installed, he never used it because he didn't want to do the upkeep. Since Geertje was only there to take care of Titus, and the master could not afford another maid, the two oak logs in the basket had been there for over three years. She approached the side of the bed and smelled the warm air coming from his uncovered shoulder. Almost immediately, her memory of one night, now about a year ago, was triggered. Her master had just received a payment for one of his Passion paintings, and he had been celebrating by spending money all day. He had bought a new bed for Titus, a set of larger pots for the kitchen, and a lot of paint and materials for his atelier, located next door. He wasn't usually a big drinker, but along with a good beer, he had quite a few jenevers that night with his friends on the Damrak. He returned to the house around ten at night and he called her into his bedroom. She remembered the coziness and the comfort of the bed, his strong arms, but also his gentle strokes and firm command during their love making. She had pitied him. She was much older than him, and perhaps she was just as eager as he was, but the thought that this man had lost not only three of his four children shortly after birth, but also his wife at age thirty, was enough for her to submit to his need. much to her chagrin, not since that one memorable night had he asked her again to share in what he called the pleasures of the flesh. Later, she had modeled for semi-nude paintings several times, but he had never regarded that as an invitation for her to join him in this cozy nest again.
Standing near his bed, she let him know that he had fifteen minutes more, and then he had to get up. God knows how late he had been working in his atelier again last night she wondered. If only his time spent there would give him an equal proportion of income so he could live more like the neighbors, with new clothes for Titus once in a while. She had overheard him many times complaining about not having money for the upkeep of the mansion. She wasn't even sure he could afford the mansion at all, and she had heard rumors that he owned money to the lenders. Her own mother had warned her about working for artists who had so many ups and downs that she would share both the lives of the haves and the have-nots without much pity or sympathy from others. If only he married her, she thought again, he'd be at peace and paint more, rather than letting his students put the paint on the canvas.
The smell of heated milk was wafting through the alcove when Rembrandt walked into the kitchen. He checked the pan, and with a wooden spoon fished out the thin layer of milky skin which he put the skin on a piece of bread already lightly smeared with salted lard. He took a bite and looked for something to drink. The milk was for Titus, his only son, so he poured himself a glass of water from the tin can sitting on a small table. He was still wearing a night shirt that was partially propped into his pants and partially hanging out in the back. He had pulled woolen socks over the bottom of his pants and shuffled over to the table. He called out for Geertje. She was in the bedroom checking on Titus from the opened window. She pondered whether or not to start the conversation about money before services. Her master was not particularly short-tempered when confronted by criticism. He was, however, as frustrated as she was when clients did not pay him enough for his work, or worse, did not pay at all because there was a dispute. She decided to wait until after services when Titus would be back on the canal.
She entered the kitchen area and Rembrandt turned to her.
"Ah, there you are. The milk's getting cold. Is Titus out there with those rotten kids?" "He'll be in soon, don't worry."
"Couldn't they have waited to go out until after services?"
"You know how it is. This is the first day and they have been waiting since New Year's Day."
"I need my sleep if I'm to do my work," he said, rubbing his eyes. "By the way, after services I am visiting with Mr. Huygens."
"Does he have a new order from the Stadhouder, our Prince?"
Rembrandt gulped the water from his cup, washing down the last of the bread and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.
"Maybe. I'll see."
* * *
The Oude Kerk was about ten minutes from van Rijn's house. Titus couldn't wait to leave after the long and boring service. It was almost noon but it wasn't hunger that drove him outside. It was the thought of binding those skates on again and getting the ice chair out for more fun on the canals. Rembrandt himself wanted to wait a while until the nobles seated in the front of the center nave had left. many of them provided work for him and his atelier. He was sure that Huygens had already gone, but he hadn't spotted him. Better to let him get home before I get to his house on the Herengracht, he thought. Rembrandt finally nodded to Geertje that it was all right for her and Titus to leave. His eyes followed them to the back of the church until they were out of sight. When he was sure that everyone had left the church, he wandered to the back where his beloved Saskia was buried. He liked being alone standing at the foot of the white, marble slab worked almost seamlessly into the church's black, tiled floor. Like most churchgoers, Calvinists and Reformed Protestants, Rembrandt was dressed in black. His coat was accented with dark gray velour and his wide pants were tucked into black leather boots. A simple white collar contrasted with his clothes. He wore a dark blue hat with a small feather of a blue jay in it. His feet were cold but he didn't complain because style trumped discomfort. He wore black woolen gloves and held his prayer book close to his chest.
At the back of the church he leaned against a huge pillar that was part of the central nave structure. The weak winter sun splashed its light from the left side over several flat gravestones. There was no inscription on the marble slab in front of him, because he had requested the undertaker not to carve the name of the love of his life into the marble. After several years, it still pained him to see her name, and it was sufficient for him to know that she rested here. many years from now, he thought, nobody would remember who was buried here, and that was fine. This way, Saskia would remain his and only his. He was thankful she had left him Titus as a part of her. Fighting tears welling up, he slowly gazed up at the wooden ceiling and the bright paintings that survived the iconoclast events when the reformists rose up against the pope and destroyed statues and religious icons eighty years ago. He shook his head thinking that this was once a proud Catholic church. He cast his gaze back on the marker, slowly sank to his knees, rested his hands on the cold marble, and kissed the stone.
Rembrandt walked briskly along the Warmoesstraat to the Damrak. In his mind he was rehearsing the things he would say to Huygens, depending on what transpired at the luncheon. Could he be so bold as to hope that the Stadhouder was finally paying up for the last paintings? If he did, that would make it easier to accept the next assignment. If he didn't, and the request would be another painting, he would have to be tactful in his refusal, because undoubtedly there would be other people at the lunch table and he did not want to scare off any present and future customers.
When he crossed the Singel toward the Herengracht, the crowd on the canal was larger than the one in the street. He paused for a moment on the bridge watching skaters, parents and children alike. Several were standing near a small table where a woman was selling buckwheat waffles. The smell carried by the smoke from a small fire near the table stirred his stomach. He hurried on to Huygens's house. He was hoping for a great lamb stew and the new coffee from the islands.
Chapter TwoAmsterdam An afternoon in February 1646
CONSTANT HUYGENS WAS the personal secretary of the Stadhouder Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange, and was himself a powerful man in Amsterdam. He knew most wheelers and dealers in the trade business, and Holland as a nation was doing very well. most of the traders worked with the Dutch East Indies Company which had a monopoly on business with Asian countries, but some offered their services in other countries. He, like most of the hard working people in the city, was well aware of their trading bases in Japan at Dejima, and on the African Gold coast in Elmina. Ships brought spices and especially salt gathered from the large salt ponds from the Caribbean Island of St. maarten. many of the conversations at the luncheons were centered on the good fortunes of their shipping empire. Being good Calvinists, they often included in their discussions the benefits they bestowed upon the lower classes. Behind the scenes however, the feel-good attitude was tainted with a dark secret. The common man did not know that once those salt ships unloaded in the port of Amsterdam, they went to Elmina where they picked up slaves destined for the Caribbean and the Americas. The traders who were in the know didn't talk about it and were careful to limit their comments on their business to basics. If asked about the half-empty ships that left the port of Amsterdam, their standard response was that they picked up African hardwoods to top off the cargo holds. Huygens controlled the conversation today, so it would not be about the spice trade, but rather on the current events in the Low Countries.
Rembrandt handed his coat and gloves to the housemaid. As was customary, he kept his hat on. When he entered the dining room of the double-wide house in the trading district, he recognized everyone. Four well dressed men with lace collars were benefactors of his. Two of them had posed and paid him very well upon the completion of The Sortie, his largest painting to date. He had painted Frans Cocq as the central figure, and Willem van Ruytenberg, off the Cocq's left in the forefront of the painting. They had recently confided in him that they didn't particularly like the painting. Rembrandt had questioned them as to how they came to that conclusion, and discovered that they based it on negative comments they heard from others. Rembrandt knew about the rumors spread by a few dissatisfied customers. They were the tough ones to get money from because they claimed he hadn't portrayed them clearly enough. He had no choice but to sue those customers in court. He had two cases pending against Rombout Kemp and Jacob Dircksen. Luckily they were not at Huygens's house. As usual, a savvy Huygens was well aware of the situation and had handpicked his guests. He greeted Rembrandt.
"Welcome. We're just about to sit down."
"Glad my timing is right," Rembrandt said, slightly nodding to the other guests.
"How's Titus? Is he making progress in his drawings?"
"No. I don't think he'll be a painter."
Huygens pulled out a chair next to his. "Well, I'm sure he'll grow up to be a fine, young man. Please be seated."
By the time the maids brought in the first course, everyone had taken their place at the table. Rembrandt knew that Huygens wanted to talk to him in private. Why else would he have been seated next to him at the head of the long table?
When the conversation drifted to the other side of the table, Huygens turned to Rembrandt.
"I have good news for you."
"From the Stadhouder?"
"No, not this time. Although he's very pleased with the six Passion paintings and the last one entitled The Circumcision of Christ. He has completed the decoration of the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague."
"So, what's the good news?"
"He's sending his treasurer tomorrow at noon to your house with the payment for the last two paintings."
"The Lord be praised! Is he paying the full amount?"
"Yes, I was told it would be 2,400 florins."
"Then that settles the dispute. I am pleased."
"I thought you would be."
"But why now? I've been waiting a year for this."
"Apparently last week he had an important visitor from Portugal."
"A Jew I presume? We seem to be getting many Jewish refugees. I heard about the relentless persecution by the pope's men over there."
"Yes, you're right on all counts."
"So who was the visitor?"
"A rabbi, menassah Ben Israel. The Stadhouder showed him your last painting and the rabbi praised it during his entire visit. At one point, the Stadhouder jokingly said that the man in the painting looked a little like the rabbi. From then on, the Stadhouder seemed to value your painting more."
"And so he figured he'd finally pay up?"
"I don't question him. That painting is now his favorite."
"Well, that leaves me with just a few dispute cases."
"You'll be doing all right. Your work is well liked."
"I hear that Amalia, his wife is the real collector in the family."
"She likes Rubens too, and if Frederik Hendrik doesn't stop her soon, he won't be able to pay any more bills."
Excerpted from Rembrandt Redux by HUGO UYTTENHOVE Copyright © 2012 by HUGO UYTTENHOVE. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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