Titus Reading

Rembrandt van Rijn (1657)

Titus was the only one of Rembrandts four children to survive infancy, though he still predeceased his father by a year or so, lending this picture a particular poignancy. It also means Rembrandt sits with Shakespeare and Bach (among many others) as artists at once devastated and inspired by this especially cruel brand of crippling loss. Here is an otherwise routine moment captured for eternity in muted autumnal warmth, where the youngster reads aloud, almost singing with delight. He is illuminated both by the physical light of the room and by the figurative light of learning that the book gives off. His immersion in the book adds a confessional intimacy to the infinite care with which hes painted, all flowing locks and youthful blush. The painter is also throwing a rope across the centuries, visualising something so many recognise: that unfathomable, intricate collection of parental feeling; care, tenderness, love, fear, hope. Its a pictorial predecessor of a letter Ted Hughes wrote to his son, Nicholas, extolling the virtue of nurturing ones inner child, the only real thing in them”. Rembrandt, undeterred by grief and bankruptcy the previous year, pours himself into this portrait, adhering to Hughesidea that the only thing people regret is that they didnt live boldly enough… didnt love enough”. And finally, a line that could have been written with Rembrandt and his work in mind: And thats how we measure out our real respect for people — by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate — and enjoy.”