FROM TREASURE TROVE TO TREASURE TRUTH: ‘The Parable of the Hidden Treasure’ by Rembrandt
One of the greatest storytellers in the history of art is Rembrandt Van Rijn. Born in Leiden in Netherlands in 1606, he had a unique, uncompromising, innovative ability to portray reality in various moods. He worked on a range of subject matters including portraits, self portraits, landscapes and genre scenes as well as allegorical, mythological, historical and Biblical themes.
Rembrandt penetrates to the heart of the subject. This is best understood through today’s painting in consideration. The narrative is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verse 44. It reads: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. The man, who finds it, buries it again; and so happy is he that he goes and sells everything he has, so that he may buy that field.’
The painting is divided into two sections; the background and the foreground. The panoramic view of the vast landscape, silhouettes of mountain ranges, barren hills, stark vegetation and a city afar draws us to the figure of a man who gazes beyond the horizon in contemplation and determination. He gapes not at the priceless treasure of ornate antiques laid before him. He has past the point of thrilled elation. Rather he seems to grasp reality with a vivid understanding of THIS IS IT! He has found the hidden treasure he longed for! He resolves to sell everything he has so that he can buy the field.
But is Rembrandt content with portraying just the narrative? Does he want to express something beyond the lens of his brush? The answer lies in the location. The top corner of the painting displays the city gate. This clearly indicates that the field is not situated in the town, but at its outskirts. And the hidden treasure in found not in an excavated hollow rather within the cavern of a little mount.
This strikes the right chord for those who attempt to read between the colourful lines of art and the gospel. Jesus was crucified at Golgotha or Mount Calvary which is located outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Thus the treasure the man discovered is indeed Christ Himself. Besides the shovel of the man lies a bunch of wild acanthus. This affirms that the treasure found is everlasting!
Rembrandt is acclaimed as the master of the clear and obscure, light and shadow. This technique in drawing and painting is called Chiaroscuro. As witnessed here, Rembrandt uses chiaroscuro to display the inner self of the subject. The light of dawn enlightens the willed face, mind and heart of the man. However his figure casts a shadow on the sacks of treasure anticipating encounter. The ones discovered glisten in daylight. Thus the light served not just to emphasize the external reality of space occupied by the subject but rather to reflect on the internal workings of character and the mind.
Art is an edited version of our own experienced reality. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure digs through the reality of the life of Rembrandt. Very interestingly the face of the figure in the painting is debated to be that of Rembrandt himself. Rembrandt faced quite a lot of trauma in his life. Three out of his four children died within months of their birth. His wife perished seven years post their marriage. Gradually he reached a stage of bankruptcy both economically and emotionally. His painting thus shadows his search for the ‘true treasure’.
In conclusion; ‘There is something of Rembrandt in the Gospel or something of the Gospel in Rembrandt, as you like it – it comes to the same,’ if one only understands the thing in the right way’ – Vincent Van Gogh.
Is there something of you in the Gospel?