That Roger Housden is an acolyte of astonishment has been evident in his books on poetry, including Ten Poems to Change Your Life and Ten Poems to Open Your Heart and the magnificent Chasing Rumi: A Fable about Finding the Heart's True Desire. These books help us unfurl our senses and experience the marvelous wonders of yearning and transformation. He's back on the same track with this masterwork on the life and paintings of Rembrandt (1606-1669).
Housden is interested in how Rembrandt's art speaks to our spiritual perceptions of self, beauty, vision, meaning, and aging. He pays special attention to the many self-portraits by this famous Dutch painter. These varied and poignant explorations of the artist's many selves are portals through which we may enter and see afresh our own joy and sadness, success and defeat, faith and foolhardiness. Artist Vincent Van Gogh once said: "In Rembrandt's portraits, it is more than nature, it is a kind of revelation . . . . [He] penetrates so deeply into the mysteries that he says things for which there are no words in any language."
Housden eschews rushing and cautions: "It's too easy to treat paintings like illustrations or pieces of prose that are merely meant to convey a message. But paintings aren't prose pieces. They are poetry transposed into paint. They speak through metaphor. And we need time to let those metaphors slip through our preconceptions and reach us below the level of words and meanings."
Housden demonstrates the art of long-looking. He savors the light that seeps out of the darkness in so many of Rembrandt's paintings. He admires the incomparable beauty that the artist reveals in the human body, whether the subject is a young child or an elderly man. He tries to imagine how Rembrandt as a collector of curios and exotica lavished attention, and maybe even adoration, on these objects which then inspired paintings. He respects the artist's soulfulness, his reverence for the world of spirit and the remarkable qualities of ordinary people. And he praises Rembrandt's extraordinary religious art, especially those Biblical paintings designed to "inspire a mood of interior reflection rather than to tell a story."
The life lessons from Rembrandt elucidated in separate chapters are: Open Your Eyes, Love the World, Troubles Will Come, Stand like a Tree, Keep the Faith, and Embrace the Inevitable. Housden is the perfect guide into the labyrinthine life of this masterful painter because of his deep and abiding reverence for the mysteries of the mind, body, and spirit.