Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dutch Class Distinctions

One nice part of spending a long weekend in Boston, ostensibly for my 45th law school reunion, was seeing the Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Museum of Fine Arts. The show was organized to show how the great Dutch painters recognized the class lines in 17th century Holland. 

First there were the nobility then the merchants and artisans and then the working class and the impoverished.  Rarely did they mix. Perhaps the most amazing fact I picked up was when Rembrandt painted a portrait, full-length which was rare there then, of one of the most powerful men in Amsterdam. This worthy didn't go for Rembrandt's little touches such as showing one glove thrown on the floor, so he held off paying the master. 

It's delightful to think about a man who now is only remembered in history because he tried to stiff Rembrandt. A bit like the then-famous Viennese music critic, Edouard Hanslick, who was satirized by Wagner as the unpleasant (to say the least) character in Die Meistersinger, Beckmesser. Of course, that is the only reason he is recalled today at all.

There were two Vermeers, which of course is always an occasion, one I hadn't previously seen from the Louvre, and the other, one of the five usually found at the Met in New York. As is the case with Vermeers, the light is extraordinary. The many other paintings of that grand age are also worth the visit. It is a formidable show.

My reunion also surprised me, I expected little from a 45th, law school no less, but those who showed up were enthusiastic and it was amazing to see how the place has changed. A classmate of mine, now deceased, funded the construction of the major new building in which most of the proceedings occurred. And it was especially fun to hear Neil Chayet, who graduated a few years before I did, speak early one morning about his Looking at the Law radio spot and conflict resolution as well.

The program on the future of the legal profession was also enlightening and not at all defensive, except for the dean noting earlier that day that 96 percent of the graduates leave with jobs in hand.

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