The Reconciliation of David and Absalom {The Story of Art}

The Reconciliation of David and Absalom. Rembrandt van Rijn. 1642.

“Like Shakespeare, [Rembrandt] seems to have been able to get into the skin of all types of men, and to know how they would behave in any given situation. It is this gift that makes Rembrandt’s illustrations of biblical stories so different from anything that had been done before. As a devout Protestant, Rembrandt must have read the Bible again and again. He entered into the spirit of its episodes, and attempted to visualize exactly what the situation would have been like, and how people would have borne themselves at such a moment.
“Rembrandt needs hardly any gestures or movements express the inner meaning of the scene. He is never theatrical. [This painting] shows one of the paintings in which he visualized [an] incident from the Bible which had hardly ever been illustrated before—the reconciliation between King David and his wicked son Absalom… What could be more moving than the gesture of the young prince in his proud array, burying his face on his father’s breast, or King David in his quiet and sorrowful acceptance of his son’s submission? Thou we do not see Absalom’s face, we feel what he must feel.”

Ernst H. Gombrich, “Chapter 20: The Mirror of Nature,” The Story of Art, 15th edition