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Art-Beauty-Rembrandt-Botticelli- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

Art-Beauty-Rembrandt-Botticelli- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD


My earliest memory of art was staring at two Rembrandt reproductions that hung in the living room of my childhood home in Arkansas. (Note: It turns out that both paintings below, once attributed to Rembrandt, may in fact have been created by one of his students).


A Girl With A Broom | Rembrandt Workshop, Possibly Carel Fabritius

A Girl With A Broom | Rembrandt Workshop, Possibly Carel Fabritius

It was A Girl with a Broom.


Note: This masterful painting may have been painted by Rembrandt’s student, Carel Fabritius. Fabritius was one of Rembrandt’s most gifted students. As a side note, Fabritius painted The Goldfinch, one of my favorites and the painting written about by Donna Tartt in her masterpiece novel, The Goldfinch.


It is thought that Rembrandt’s students help execute paintings that sold under Rembrandt’s name, even though the artists had their own paintings they signed as well. Paintings the students created in Rembrandt’s workshop were often derived from Rembrandt’s own compositions.


nd the painting facing it on the opposite wall was The Man with the Golden Helmet.
The Man with the Golden Helmet - Rembrandt's Workshop

The Man with the Golden Helmet – Rembrandt’s Workshop

I’d stare at these portraits for hours—mesmerized by the sitter’s eyes.


It didn’t matter who painted these paintings, the essence of them influenced my life. 


The portraits seemed alive in their compositional chiaroscuro as they emerged from the dark umber background, like figures in a dream, and I thought it possible they might one day climb down from the canvas and come play with me.

I fantasized about their personalities, their voices, and their stories.


The swirl of life’s currents swept me away from being an artist. I explored drama, debate, writing, biology and chemistry. I went to medical school, became a physician and studied internal medicine, radiology, and psychiatry.


But the dream wouldn’t let go.


A Trip To Florence


When we returned from an Art and Anatomy Study trip in Florence just before the pandemic, COVID upended people’s lives, just as the plague did in Botticelli’s time. But Art kept us going.


In her free time after zoom classes, our daughter turned to a historical fiction series about the Medici on Netflix.  

Soon, Botticelli appeared again in the form of his obsession with Simonetta Vespucci, the artist’s model who became his muse for the Venus in both The Birth of Venus and Primavera, as well as others.


Simonetta, celebrated for her beauty, was a sort of Helen of Florence.


Sadly, she diedof tuberculosis at age 23.


Botticelli’s wish was to be buried at the feet of his muse, Simonetta.


His wish was granted.


Botticelli, while famous during his lifetime and briefly thereafter, was overshadowed in later years by his artistic successors, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.


The Modern Idea Of Beauty


Botticelli fell out of favor until his renaissance in the 19th century, when he was re-discovered. It’s been written that Botticelli shaped the modern idea of beauty.

Cultural references abound such as: Andy Warhol’s exploration of Botticelli’s 
Birth of Venus from a modern viewpoint as well as the Jack Jericho character in the film The Pick-Up Artist (1987) who asked: Has anyone ever told you that you have the face of a Botticelli and the body of a Degas?


Art can influence us subconsciously


An article in The New York Times dated 03/16/2016 shows a photograph of a teenager on a beach who struck a pose reminiscent of the Venus. It seemed to be the embodiment of beauty in the girl’s subconscious gesture.


Our fascination with color is innate


Recently, the earliest known example of abstract art from 73,000 years ago was found in a South African cave. Patterns were drawn onto rock with soft minerals of ochre, an iron rich rock, malleable as lipstick.


Making patterns and symbols is a way of storing and transmitting knowledge outside the brain, and color excites the brain.


There are many different forms of abstraction.

Venus is a form of “subject” abstraction.


Even though abstract art is something we think of as new, it has deep roots in the old.


We study Art History in order to mine the brilliance of the masters, as the masters did before us. This lineage is the foundation upon which we explore new works.


The possibilities are endless


What if we tried working with Caravaggio’s concept of chiaroscuro and brought it into abstract painting?.

Or, what if we discussed Michelangelo’s “lost and found” lines and edges in his sculptures and translated that to painting?

What if we contrasted the palettes of Rembrandt vs. Botticelli and played with that in Abstract painting?


Say Yes To The Possibilities


I believe we’re called repeatedly to say “yes” to our deepest yearnings and yet sometimes we refuse. But finally we’ve simply had enough of refusing and we say “yes” wholeheartedly—even though we’re afraid.


All the great artists before us said yes to their artist’s journey—they said yes to their dream to create their deepest art.


This is what I write about—and this is what I’m exploring in my novel about an artist named Rembrandt.


Stay tuned—it may take a while for the book to be completed—but meanwhile, I’ve got a special, juicy offer for you, an antidote to the dreary doldrums of the now seemingly post-pandemic era and the soulless doomscrolling of daily news—it’s my course: Experimenting With Color.


To take advantage of this Special 2023 Holiday Offer, click HERE.


Now is the time to finally say Yes to your artist’s dream.


With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce

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