Rembrandt was a Dutch baroque artist whoranks as one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art. His fullname was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, and he possessed a profoundunderstanding of human nature that was matched by a brilliant technique- notonly in painting but in drawing and etching- and his work made an enormousimpact on his contemporaries and influenced the style of many later artists.Perhaps no painter has ever equaled Rembrandt's chiaroscuro effects or his boldimpasto.Life
Born in Leiden on July 15, 1606, Rembrandt was the son of a miller.Despite the fact that he came from a family of relatively modest means, hisparents took great care with his education. Rembrandt began his studies at theLatin School, and at the age of 14 he was enrolled at the University of Leiden.The program did not interest him, and he soon left to study art-first with alocal master, Jacob van Swanenburch, and then, in Amsterdam, with PieterLastman, known for his historical paintings. After six months, having masteredeverything he had been taught, Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where he was soonso highly regarded that although barely 22 years old, he took his first pupils,among them Gerrit Dou.
Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631; hismarriage in 1634 to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful artdealer, enhanced his career, bringing him in contact with wealthy patrons whoeagerly commissioned portraits. An exceptionally fine example from this periodis the Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts (1631, Frick Collection, New York City). Inaddition, Rembrandt's mythological and religious works were much in demand, andhe painted numerous dramatic masterpieces such as The Blinding of Samson (1636,Stдdelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt). Because of his renown as a teacher, hisstudio was filled with pupils, some of whom (such as Carel Fabritius) werealready trained artists. In the 20th century, scholars have reattributed anumber of his paintings to his associates; attributing and identifyingRembrandt's works is an active area of art scholarship.
In contrast to his successful public career, however,Rembrandt's family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635 and 1641 Saskiagave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own deathcame in 1642. Hendrickje Stoffels, engaged as his housekeeper about 1649,eventually became his common-law wife and was the model for many of hispictures.
Despite Rembrandt's financial success as anartist, teacher, and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forcedhim to declare bankruptcy in 1656. An inventory of his collection of art andantiquities, taken before an auction to pay his debts, showed the breadth ofRembrandt's interests: ancient sculpture, Flemish and Italian Renaissancepaintings, Far Eastern art, contemporary Dutch works, weapons, and armor.Unfortunately, the results of the auction-including the sale of his house-weredisappointing.
These problems in no way affected Rembrandt's work; ifanything, his artistry increased. Some of the great paintings from this periodare The Jewish Bride (1632), The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1661, Rijksmuseum,Amsterdam), Bathsheba (1654, Musйe du Louvre, Paris), Jacob Blessing the Sonsof Joseph (1656, Staatliche Gemдldegalerie, Kassel, Germany), and aself-portrait (1658, Frick Collection). His personal life, however, continued tobe marred by sorrow, for his beloved Hendrickje died in 1663, and his son,Titus, in 1668. Eleven months later, on October 4, 1669, Rembrandt died inAmsterdam.
Rembrandt may have created more than 600paintings as well as an enormous number of drawings and etchings. The style ofhis earliest paintings, executed in the 1620s, shows the influence of histeacher, Pieter Lastman, in the choice of dramatic subjects, crowdedcompositional arrangements, and emphatic contrasts of light and shadow. TheNoble Slav (1632, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) shows Rembrandt'slove of exotic costumes, a feature characteristic of many of his early works.
A magnificent canvas, Portrait of a Man and His Wife(1633, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), shows his early portraitstyle-his preoccupation with the sitters' features and with details of clothingand room furnishings; this careful rendering of interiors was to be eliminatedin his later works. Members of Rembrandt's family who served as his models aresometimes portrayed in other guises, as in Rembrandt's Mother as the ProphetessAnna (1631, Rijksmuseum), or the wistful Saskia as Flora, (1634, the Hermitage,Saint Petersburg).
Perhaps no artist ever painted as many self-portraits(about 60), or subjected himself to such penetrating self-analysis. Not everyearly portrayal, however, can be interpreted as objective representation, forthese pictures frequently served as studies of various emotions, later to beincorporated into his biblical and historical paintings. The self-portraitsalso may have served to demonstrate his command of chiaroscuro; thus, it isdifficult to tell what Rembrandt looked like from such a self-portrait as theone painted about 1628 (Rijksmuseum, on loan from the Daan Cevat Collection,England), in which deep shadows cover most of his face, barely revealing hisfeatures. On the other hand, in none of these youthful self-portraits did heattempt to disguise his homely features.
Biblical subjects account for aboutone-third of Rembrandt's entire production. This was somewhat unusual inProtestant Holland of the 17th century, for church patronage was nonexistentand religious art was not regarded as important. In Rembrandt's early biblicalworks, drama was emphasized, in keeping with baroque taste.
Among Rembrandt's first major publiccommissions in Amsterdam was the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632, Mauritshuis,The Hague). This work depicts the regents of the Guild of Surgeons gathered fora dissection and lecture. Such group portraits were a genre unique to Hollandand meant substantial income for an artist in a country where neither churchnor royalty acted as patrons of art. Rembrandt's painting surpassescommemorative portraits made by other Dutch artists with its interestingpyramidal arrangement of the figures, lending naturalism to the scene.
Many of Rembrandt's paintings of the 1640sshow the influence of classicism in style and spirit. A 1640 self-portrait(National Gallery, London), based on works by the Italian Renaissance artistsRaphael and Titian, reflects his assimilation of classicism both in formalorganization and in his expression of inner calm. In the Portrait of theMennonite Preacher Anslo and His Wife (1641, Staatliche Museen, Berlin-Dahlem),quieter in feeling than his earlier work, the interplay between the figures ismasterfully rendered; the preacher speaks, perhaps explaining a biblicalpassage to his wife, who quietly listens. A number of Rembrandt's other worksdepict dialogues and, like this one, represent one specific moment. In themoving Supper at Emmaus (1648, Musйe du Louvre), Rembrandt's use of lightimmediately conveys the meaning of the scene.
His group portraiture continued to developin richness and complexity. The so-called Night Watch-more accurately titledThe Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (1642, Rijksmuseum)-portraysthe bustling activity of a military company, gathered behind its leaders,preparing for a parade or shooting contest. In departing from the customarystatic mode of painting rows of figures for the corporate portrait, Rembrandtachieved a powerful dramatic effect. Despite the popular myth that the paintingwas rejected by those who commissioned it, and led to a decline in Rembrandt'sreputation and fortune, it was actually well received. Many of Rembrandt'slandscapes in this middle period are romantic and based on his imaginationrather than recording specific places. The inclusion of ancient ruins androlling hills, not a part of the flat Dutch countryside, as in River Valleywith Ruins (Staatliche Gemдldegalerie, Kassel), suggests a classical influencederived from Italy.
Rembrandt's greatest paintings werecreated during the last two decades of his life. Baroque drama, outwardsplendor, and superficial details no longer mattered to him. Hisself-portraits, portrayals of single figures and groups, and historical andreligious works reveal a concern with mood and with spiritual qualities. Hispalette grew richly coloristic and his brushwork became increasingly bold; hebuilt thick impastos that seem miraculously to float over the canvas. InPortrait of the Painter in Old Age (1669?, National Gallery, London),Rembrandt's features betray a slightly sarcastic mood. One of his finest singleportraits (1654, Stichting Jan Six, Amsterdam) is that of Jan Six. Six, wearinga deeply colored red, gold, and gray costume, is shown putting on a glove. Theportrait is painted in a semiabstract style that demonstrates Rembrandt'sdaring technical bravura. Six's quiet, meditative mood is expressed by thesubtle play of light on his face. In such late biblical works as Potiphar'sWife Accusing Joseph (1655, Staatliche Museen, Berlin-Dahlem), and the verymoving Return of the Prodigal Son (1669?, the Hermitage) Rembrandt concentratedon the inherent psychological drama rather than on the excitement of thenarrative as he had in works of his early period. In general, after his earlyperiod, Rembrandt was not particularly interested in allegorical andmythological subjects.Graphic Work
For Rembrandt, drawing and etching were as much major vehicles ofexpression as painting. Some 1400 drawings, recording a wide range of outwardand inner visions, are attributed to him, works mostly done for their own sakerather than as preparatory studies for paintings or prints. The majority ofthem are not signed, because they were made for his private use. Rembrandt'searly drawings (of the 1630s) were frequently executed in black or red chalk; laterhis favorite medium became pen and ink on white paper, often in combinationwith brushwork, lending a tonal accent. In some drawings, such as The Findingof Moses (1635?, Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam), a few charged linesindicating three figures carry maximum expression. Other drawings were, incontrast, highly finished, such as The Eastern Gate at Rhenen (Oostpoort)(1648?, Musйe, Bayonne, France), which displays details of architecture andperspective. He made masterful drawings throughout the early as well as maturephases of his career. An example of an early work is Portrait of a Man in anArmchair, Seen Through a Frame (1634, private collection, New York City), donein chalk, considered Rembrandt's most finished portrait drawing. Superb later worksare Nathan Admonishing David (1655-1656?, Metropolitan Museum), done with areed pen, and a genre piece, A Woman Sleeping (Hendrickje?) (1655?, BritishMuseum, London), a powerful brush drawing universally praised as one of hisfinest.
Rembrandt'setchings were internationally renowned even during his lifetime. He exploitedthe etching process for its unique potential, using scribbling strokes toproduce extraordinarily expressive lines. In combination with etching heemployed the drypoint needle, achieving special effects with the burr in hismature graphic work. Indeed, Rembrandt's most impressive etchings date from hismature period. They include the magnificent full-length portrait of Jan Six(1647, Bibliothиque Nationale, Paris), the famous Christ Healing the Sick, alsoknown as the 100 Guilder Print (1642-1645?), the poetic landscape Three Trees(1643), and Christ Preaching, or La Petite Tombe (1652?), all in the BritishMuseum.
/>The Music Party,1626, oil on wood, Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam.
/>The Rich Old Man from the Parable,detail, 1627, oil on wood, Gemдldegalerie, Berlin.
/>Self Portrait, 1627, oil on canvas,Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemдldegalerie Alte Meister.
/>Self Portrait, 1629, oil on canvas,The Mauritshuis at The Hague.
/>Self Portrait, 1629, panel,Pinakothek at Munich.
/>Artist in his Studio, 1629, oil onpanel, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
/>Bust of an Old Man in a Fur Cap,1630, oil on wood, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck.
/>Belshazzar's Feast, 1630-35,National Gallery at London.
/>Nicolaes Ruts, 1631, oil onmahogany panel, Frick Collection at New York.