By James A. Ganz
DelMonico Books, $34.95, 165 pages

Author James A. Ganz depicts the dazzling baroque print culture of the 17th century Dutch golden age, the same time period that saw the creation of Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Gantz highlights the period’s most influential painter, Rembrandt Van Rjin, who was also the most innovative graphic artist of the group, and graphic arts specialists Callot, Hollar and Doomer. In this exquisite book, Ganz presents thematic portrayals of the artists, portraiture, natural history, daily life, landscape, mythology and religion, and the art of darkness. The engravings and etchings are part of the body of works housed at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“God’s handiwork, which I can visit, own and see;
I need no copy of it from a human hand
Whenever, there’s one part of painter’s art can please me;
That piece which lays its hand to slow the wheel of time.”

Print-making, Gantz states, “offered greater longevity than sculptural or architectural constructions.” Paintings were vulnerable to destruction; engravings offered assurance that the print edition of a work would never die. Ganz compares the revolutionary process of printmaking to the virtual information superhighway, long before its invention, because of the portability of copper plate and wood block.

The ink portraiture etchings depicted in Rembrandt’s Century are so precisely detailed that one feels voyeuristic – as if one had time traveled through four centuries to become a fly-on-the-wall witness to the 17th century mise-en-scène. One has only to look at the portraits of artists like Rembrandt van Rijn, Ritratto di Pierro and Anthony van Dyck to feel as if the artists are peering back at you through the centuries. As their “living eyes” seem to follow me from the page, I feel as though I must rapidly turn the page against their probing gaze to find relief. It is then that I know that great art never dies.

Reviewed by Sheila Erwin

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