Peter Scheldahl writes about art for the New Yorker. The short piece in the August 1 issue of the magazine is entitled “Young Master.” Here’s how it begins:
Seeing an unfamiliar painting by Rembrandt is a life event: fresh data on what it’s like to be human.
The Rembrandt in question is called “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver:”
Rembrandt painted this when he was twenty-three years old. It is considered to be his first masterpiece, and is currently in the news because it has been lent to the Morgan Library and Museum, one of my favorite places in New York. The Morgan will exhibit it until September 18, at which time it will presumably be returned to the private collection whence it came.
I thought that finding out where that private collection is would be a deep dark secret, but I had very little trouble discovering it. Both the Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons identify it as Mulgrave Castle in Lythe, Yorkshire.
But that’s where the confusion begins – at least, for me it does. Wikipedia explains that Mulgrave Castle actually refers to three separate structures: an ancient ruin supposedly built in the sixth century, a later castle probably of Norman origin, and a country house built by one Lady Catherine Darnley presumably in the late 1600s. In 2003, supermodel Elle Macpherson comes into this mix! (check out the aforementioned Wikipedia entry for details.) The Wikipedia entry contains no mention of the Rembrandt.
The estate is currently owned by Constantine Phipps, Fifth Marquess of Normanby. It is situated near Whitby in North Yorkshire. Whitby is a storied place. We were there in 2007. The town has interesting shops; when you’re walking along the commercial avenue and you look up, you behold, high on a distant hill, the ruins of Whitby Abbey, originally established in AD 657 and destroyed in the mid 800s by the Vikings. A Benedictine monastery was established there in 1078. This in turn fell to ruin after King Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic religious houses in 1539. And that is what you see after you put your wallet away, secure your purchases, and turn your gaze upward.
(This almost supernatural collision of past and present is one of the reasons why I love England so much.)
When you go to the website for the Mulgrave Estate, it’s all business – not a hint of poetry anywhere. And once again, not a word about the Rembrandt….