A Thousand Words

Rembrandt's
The Denial of Peter

Rembrandt’s world, the Holland of the seventeenth century, has been described as “a rich stew of religious denominations,” predominantly Calvinist, but flavored with Lutherans, Remonstrants, Anabaptists, Collegiants, Quakers, and a seasoning of Catholics and Jews. Religious controversies were the hot topics of the day. Yet for all that, religious painting in the Netherlands languished. Calvin considered that painting was suitable only to render an account of the visible world, useful for the decoration of private spaces or civic buildings, but that any figural representation of the divine diminished or degraded it, and was therefore unsuitable. Calvinist churches were stripped of all decoration, especially of paintings, and the market . . .

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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