Hendrickje Stoffels by Rembrandt
My special gem is the ‘Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels’ by Rembrandt that hangs in the London National Gallery. While the painter tends to be well known for his dark and stoic portraits of wealthy men, this piece is a tender and intimate creation stemming from love and admiration. It’s a gem that means so much more when you know the context of its painting; a young Stoffels was employed by the painter to take care of his infant son after his wife passed away. They fell in love but couldn’t marry for financial purposes, and so their relationship was very much frowned upon. Rather than let that stop them, they continued to live together for the rest of her life, raising a child together, and she was put in charge of the art firm that sold his works.
The portrait is much lighter in colour than Rembrandt’s most famous works, depicting Stoffels in a loose and revealing robe, far from the expectations of Dutch portrait work at the time. The style shows great love for the subject, but also respect, as she is looking head-on at the viewer rather than lowering her gaze in a docile way.
The reason I chose this artwork is because it made me cry the first time I saw it. Even before I learnt about the subject, there was something about it that drew me in, and I have had to go back and see it every time I’ve been in London since.
‘Ulysses’ will forever be a gem. James Joyce’s modernist epic of 1922 set the foundations for a whole new literary style that was about the portrayal of characters’ stream of consciousness. The day in the life of three very different people (Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and his wife Molly) on the day of 16th June 1904, has become so famous, it’s officially recognised as Bloomsday. Kidney Fritters all round!
What is key to the legacy of ‘Ulysses’ is the not only the episodic tales of Dublin’s streets all mapped out, but the incredibly unique style that Joyce incorporates and experiments with. The short, yet meticulous nature of Bloom, versus the continuous monologue of Molly, making it the longest sentence in modern literary history for some several decades, enshrines the polar opposites of Joyce’s ambitions in creating his style. What also makes this work canonised forever is the incredible spectrum of vocabulary used by Joyce, many of which are words invented by himself.
The wordplay of ‘Ulysses’ is what makes it have outstanding criteria for a literary gem. Joyce, through his words, creates something so playful and endearing that you’d have to be very stubborn not to appreciate its genius. Something crucial to the language is sound, and onomatopoeia finds itself running through the veins of the text.
Ulysses was written at the time of the Irish question being answered, and an ‘Irishness’ was being fulfilled. ‘Ulysses’ is something to be cherished, it’s place as literature’s bold modern experiment is enshrined indefinitely. To use Joycean language, I hope this Scribbledehobble hasn’t been a botch-up.