Seeing Something that Hasn’t Been Seen for 400 Years

Zhenya Gershman in her studio


Sometimes we only see what we’ve been told to see. What if there is something entirely different to see?

During 7th grade, Natalie and I enrolled in a magnificent class on the artist Rembrandt with Zhenya Gershman, an artist-educator who was teaching at the Getty Center at the time. She warned us that we might become addicted. To Rembrandt that is. She was right.  That is why I found myself, two weeks ago, snaking up the winding roads above Sunset Boulevard to her studio.  I was sitting in on another Rembrandt class she was teaching (as it was a school day, I had to promise Natalie I would tell her everything). During this session, Zhenya was sharing the story behind an amazing discovery she has made about a Rembrandt painting. Imagine making a discovery that the international art community has unanimously agreed is true.

Before I tell you the story, you might be interested to know that Rembrandt liked to include himself in some of his canvases.  He was curious about the psychological role of the artist.  Zhenya likes to say, “…and the more you study Rembrandt, the more you see the secret man who is sending his messages.”

For example, in “Night Watch,” which is in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, if you look carefully you will see where Rembrandt included himself in the distant background – just his eye.  Look at the middle of the canvas, in the back row of men, to the left of the man with the tall hat. You will see some cheek and an eye – that is Rembrandt.


“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Zhenya discovered that he had placed himself in another of his paintings, which amazingly enough no one had noticed before.  The painting is “Danae,” which is in The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  See the maid on the left side of the frame, peering around the door?  Every historian has talked about the maid as “she.” Zhenya realized the maid was not a woman at all, but was Rembrandt.  Look at the face.  He is even holding a palette and brushes in his hand!  It just shows how the power of suggestion, repeatedly stated as a fact for centuries, can easily trick even the trained eye and brain into accepting something that isn’t so.

“Danae” by Rembrandt at The Hermitage Museum in Russia

To get another glimpse into this fascinating man and artist, read “Rembrandt’s Diary” the essay Natalie wrote after taking Zhenya’s class. (See Natalie’s post today).

Zhenya’s book about the process of making and confirming her discovery, which I’m looking forward to reading, will be published in 2013.  I will be one of the first to buy it, because as Zhenya would say:  I have been drawn into “the Rembrandt Addiction.” Visit her website to be blown away by Zhenya’s portraits that appear when the main page pops up

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