National Gallery, Prague
September 07, 2009
When my Bayreuth trip came together, I agreed to go on a Rembrandt tour of Belgium and the Netherlands directly afterwards. The friend who accompanied me to the Festspiele has a bit of an obsession with the Dutch painter, and because she did not manage to see the painting in Prague, I offered to take her, given the relative proximity of Bayreuth to the Czech Republic. This involved waking up at 5 in the morning, taking the train to Kirchenlaibach, then connecting to Marktredwitz, and still again switching trains in Cheb. Weirdly enough, I've done this more than once, and in the station in Cheb I was struck by how silly it was for us to be drinking coffee in this small bordertown. Everyone else on this particular morning was eating soup and drinking beer. It also occurred to me, that my Czech has deteriorated to three words: pivo (beer), káva (coffee), and páni (gentlemen).
In any case, we did make it to Prague in the afternoon, and naturally left luggage was closed at Praha hlavní nádraží. So we dragged our luggage to the main branch of the Národní Muzeum, bought tickets, and left our luggage there before racing across town, as the Rembrandt is housed in the Sternberg Palace (Šternberský Palác) near Pražský hrad. I had not counted on the Charles Bridge being so crowded, so it took a good deal of time. Generally, I must have looked rather annoyed, for my facial expression when someone offered me a flyer for some concert made him jump back.
We went directly to see Rembrandt's Scholar in His Study, 1634, an oil on canvas (145 x 134.9 cm). I find this painting particularly sympathetic for an early work, the warmth of the red in the scholar's cap contrasted with the bluish black of his mantel is pleasing. Also the shape of the composition is somehow gratifying to the eye, though the books are not especially well-rendered.
Afterward we wandered the rest of the two floors of the museum, and I was unable to find Dürer's Feast of the Rose Garlands. We did admire both Bronzino's Portrait of Eleonora da Toledo (c. 1545) and El Greco's Head of Christ (1590-95).