Rembrandt’s Chair

I’ve just returned from Innsbruck, Tyrol, where I spent the past couple of days. Before that, I spent three days at a conference in the small town of Stein an der Donau, about an hours drive north-west of Vienna, which made for a rather strenuous but also highly rewarding week. Both Innsbruck and Stein have a lot to offer artwise, especially if, like me, you’re mainly interested in the period of. ca. 1250-1550. Many of the things I saw in this past week will, of course, appear on this blog in the near future, but I suspect that most of them will make for rather lenghty posts and right now I don’t have the time to write one of those. So, instead, here’s something quick and easy, a post about good ol’ Rembrandt.

Rembrandt Harmesz. van Rijn, Bust of Old Man in a Fur Cap, 1630 (Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck), Image © Wikimedia Commons

Now I know I said it was unlikely that I’d ever be blogging about Rembrandt but I literally stumbled upon one of his paintings in the Tiroler Landesmuseum [Tyrolean State Museum] in Innsbruck. Or, more precisely, I didn’t stumble upon the painting itself but upon the chair that comes with it…

Ok, let me start from the beginning: Right in the very first exhibition room of the museum, the friendly warden offered to bring me a folding camp chair to take along with me. I declined, thinking that the warden was simply overeager to accommodate visitors. As I walked from room to room, however, I realised that there really weren’t any proper seats or benches for visitors to sit down and rest and/or look at one of the paintings more attentively. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into one of the rooms on the first floor and suddenly there was this rather ostentatious armchair, a real eye-catcher upholstered in flashy red leather, placed right in the center of the room:

My first reaction was “WTF?”, but then I realised that the chair was orientated towards one particular painting – the museum’s one and only Rembrandt, Bust of an Old Man in a Fur Cap. So far, so good, the only problem is that the painting’s really small [21.5 × 17 cm / 8.5 × 6.7 in] and the armchair’s quite a bite away from it. So if you actually wanted to sit down and have a good look at the picture, you’d probably need to bring binoculars. But if you ask me, I don’t believe the chair has been placed there for that purpose, anyway – rather, I guess, it’s there so that people will look at the painting at all. Seriously, Rembrandt or not, I bet that most visitors would simply walk past that teeny tiny picture if it weren’t for the prominent chair. It’s the chair and its orientation towards the painting that make people stop and realise that there’s something they should be looking at in this room. So, in the end, I believe the armchair is simply the museum’s ingenious (and politer) way of saying: “You incompetent nincompoop, you almost walked past our Rembrandt without even noticing it!”

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5 Responses to Rembrandt’s Chair

  1. Pingback: Innsbruck “Street Art” (Late Medieval Edition) « L'Historien Errant

  2. Ha ha! As you said, the chair is a more tactful way of drawing attention to an important (and expensive) item. In your photo, it looks like the Rembrandt is on its own little pillar or wall support. Is that right? I like the thought that it’s physically “elevated” and set apart from the other pieces on the wall.

    On a side note, those dark paintings look completely uncomfortable in the modernist “white cube” gallery display. They almost look like gaping holes in the wall.

    • Thanks for your comment, m!

      You’re right about the Rembrandt having its own piece of wall support – well spotted. The only problem is that to me it looked more like some sort of ventilation shaft rather than a proper pillar, which gave the presentation a bit of a makeshift character and, in my opinion, undermined the desired effect.

      Oh, and dont get me started on the “white cube” thing. I mean, I don’t have anything against the whole “white cube” concept per se, it works brilliantly with some art but definitely not with all art. Nonetheless, these days museum curators seem to view it more and more as a one-fits-all universal remedy…

  3. Pingback: Innsbruck “Street Art” (Early Modern Edition) « L'Historien Errant

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