A heroic rider gallops through the gloom, stopping to contemplate the world beyond the viewer before his horse rides on. The Polish Rider, painted around 1655, is an ambiguous reproduction of an equestrian scene which most attribute to the Dutch master Rembrandt since the canvas came into the Frick Collection in 1910. Named as such because the costume and breed of the horse has been claimed as Polish, the canvas is still filled with enigmatic features. Equestrian portraits were not in style in the high times of the Dutch golden age of painting in the seventeenth century, leading many to posit whether the subject might be of a historical or literary nature. The roguish postures of the rider and the ragged airs of his steed question the possibility of this being an imagined reproduction of a legendary figures or that that Rembrandt was simply painting a foreign solider – neither enemy nor friend – which was a recurring theme in seventeenth-century prints. With no evidence of delighting or reveling in the exotic, others have argued that the young rider represents the heroic European solider defending the continent from the invading Turks. If so, The Polish Rider is an early example of a belief in the unity of Europeans - although a unity forged in opposition to another.
The simplest answer would be that Rembrandt wanted to represent the stoic and unblemished individual facing the dangers of the unknown that may be lingering in the dark and malevolent landscape. A popular theme for the painter, as seen in his masterwork The Night Watch, the subject could be seen as the embodiment of a certain kind of brave republicanism that was emerging in Europe and flourishing in Holland. Yet regardless of theme or form, Rembrandt’s The Polish Rider, is a perfect companion to The Night Watch, celebrating the flawed and enigmatic heroism of the individual.
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