Welcome to my stop on the Rembrandt’s Mirror blog tour. Today I’ve pinched an idea from my lovely friend Kirsty, who blogs over at kirstyes.co.uk and I am interviewing Hendrickje Stoffels, the main character in Rembrandt’s Mirror. At the time of this interview, Hendrickje has already been living in Rembrandt’s house for a while and her residency has not been without incident!
If you could be face to face with Geertje, without acrimony, what would you say to her?
If I were to meet her in the street I would feel embarrassed rather than angry. She’d probably spit at me. And who can blame her. It’s true, she made things difficult. But in her position I might have done the same. I sometimes wonder about her, how she is. If she is on her own. If she will die alone. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I’ve not answered your question. What would I say to her? I could not say any of this to her. I could not say that I am sorry for what happened. I’d be too ashamed. It’s an ugly thing he did. Perhaps I’d say this to her: ‘Have you ever loved someone, maybe a friend or a relative? And if they did something despicable, would you stop loving them? Would you have stopped loving him, if you had been in my shoes?
Geertje would probably laugh at me.
Do you know what eventually happened to Petronella?
I tried to see her again after our last meeting. I went down to the harbour but she wasn’t there. I went to her chambers and the maid said she’d packed and left without telling the bawd. No-one knows where she went. I’m hoping she went back to Germany to her family but from what she told me I don’t think her family would take her in. But perhaps she has gone somewhere else, where people don’t know that she’s a whore. She might have found employment as a maid. But given her age and appearance (nobody likes a fat, old maid) it would be no easy task. However, when Petronella gets something into her head she usually finds a way to make it happen.
Can you tell us more about your feelings on entering Rembrandt’s household?
I felt overwhelmed. The place was enormous; the double-height entrance hall, and the bustle of it with all the pupils and assistants. The first thing I noticed apart from the pictures on the walls was all the different smells. First there was the stench of asphalt. I later learned that it came from the print room. Then when we approached the stairs the aroma of roasting meat came wafting up from the basement making my mouth water. But Geertje shooed us up the stairs into the studio. And there were three young men, on a platform, sitting perfectly still, like figurines in a Christmas tableaux and Rembrandt had locked eyes with one of them. I’ll never forget the expression on Rembrandt’s face, as if he had lost all hope.
Could you describe Rembrandt – the person, not the famous painter – in five words?
That’s a very difficult task: of-his-own-mind, ferocious, funny, tenderhearted, unrelenting (I’m trying not to say ‘vengeful’).
Can you put words to Saskia’s presence in the Rembrandt household? How does her ‘ghost’ affect you?
At first I knew nothing of Saskia. It was only later when I learned about the circumstances of her death that I started to look at the paintings of her. Especially the one with the red carnation. Her hand is pressed to her bosom and she is holding out the flower, as if offering it whoever is looking at the painting. I’m sure she was very kind and yet self-assured, quite unlike me. I try not to think too much about the dead.
Which of Rembrandt’s works speaks to you the most, and why is this?
I don’t know what you mean by ‘speaks to me’ but the one that I can’t forget, that keeps returning day and night is that awful etching of a couple in the act of ‘melling’ together. You know what I mean? They were copulating in an ornate French Bed. At first I thought it an awful sight but then I noticed how their gazes were so fixed on one another, as if they would never be parted. And she had her arms around him as if she could not get him to be close enough for her liking. I can contemplate in my mind’s eye whenever I choose and, to tell you the truth, I often do and the more I think of it, the less I can find the sin in it.
What were your feelings as you travelled back to Bredevoort? Anticipation? Fear?
A sickening feeling in my stomach and a little hope.
Your father was prematurely taken from the family – can you describe him and your relationship?
He was a kind man and each time he looked at me his face lit up.
How would you describe your feelings towards Samuel?
He is very learned and yet he wears his wisdom lightly. He is such a good soul, with a kindly heart. I’m sure he will do great things and that success in the world will never change him.
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour. Rembrandt’s Mirror is available now.
Find out more about Kim Devereux and Rembrandt’s Mirror at http://www.kimdevereux.co.uk/Rembrandts_Mirror/Home.html.