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Julius Langbehn, Rembrandt as Educator (1890)

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Dutch by birth. It is revealing and an external confirmation of the eccentric character of the Germans that their most national artist is only inwardly part of them, but not also politically; the German national spirit had, so to speak, driven the national body apart. That must now change: spirit and body, in the Volk as well as in the individual, shall come together again. The rupture that runs through modern culture must close again. And only a living human being, cast into the abyss like Curtius, can close it; Rembrandt is such a person. His personality, in its utter unaffectedness and hyper-individuality, seems like an effective antidote to German pedantry, which has already caused so much harm. This man does not fit into any template; he defies all attempts to lay him down on any kind of learned Procrustean bed. He cannot be turned into academic programs and school formulas, as is the case with Raphael and others; he is who he is: Rembrandt.

Perhaps the German has such a proclivity for rules only because his character is by nature a ruleless one; he seeks correction, complementarity; but he should look for such complementarity more inside than outside himself; he should cleanse himself from the errors of his individualism by elevating healthy individualism into a principle. In doing so, he will fortify his nature and limit it without diminishing or harming it. He needs educational types, but not educational templates; for a type forms itself from the inside out, a template, however, from the outside in; that is a fundamental difference. “One thing is not suitable for all.” Just as Greek artists possessed, in the canon of Polyclites, a normal figure drawn from the people itself, to whose measurements they always adjusted their pictorial works, thereby imparting to the same that character of calm and uniformity and harmony that is the chief virtue of Greek art, so do the German artist and the German man conversely possess, in a figure like Rembrandt, a model of what is animated and distinct, [a model] of a man of individual talents, which forms a fundamental trait of the German character and thus also of German art. The two relate to each other like homophony to polyphony. For the duties and responsibilities of peoples are very different; one fate has befallen the Greeks, another the Germans; the former a concentric, the latter an eccentric nature. And the restless German spirit was probably never juxtaposed to the calm spirit of antiquity more beautifully than in Hölderlin’s profoundly German saying: “We are nothing; what we seek is everything.” If one compares it with the notion of Olympian calm and self-sufficiency, which is drawn from the deepest depth of the Greek spirit, this contrast becomes even more palpable; “we seek nothing; what we are is everything,” the Greeks might have said.

To find the path back to truth, the Germans must simply become mindful of themselves: “This I call a German look, strong, well-bred, and refined,” Rahel said. God and humans, poets and prophets, man and woman call out to the German: be German! The Germans, as a people, are now strong; but “well-bred” only in part, and “refined” even less. – For their education is false, and the false is never refined. He who gives up the invaluable good of his individuality for the cheap finery of a false education is not wiser than the Negro who sells his land and his freedom for a bottle of fake rum and a few beads of glass. Strong, well-bred, and refined – is the character of Bach’s music; with it and towards it the Germans should form themselves; strong, well-bred, and refined – is the content of Rembrandt’s painting; in it the Germans should immerse themselves. The “well-tempered clavier” left behind by the former, and the carefully developed scale of chiaroscuro by the latter are educational tools of the highest order; they are such in the literal and the figurative sense, in the artistic-professional and the human sense; they are such in the German sense.

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