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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Rembrandt

Rembrandt

Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was an innovative and prolific master draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. He is considered one of the great artists in the history of art. Rembrandt’s works depict a range of styles and subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement during the Dutch Golden Age when Dutch Art gave rise to new genres.

Overall Rembrandt created about eighty self-portraits consisting of over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings. The self-portraits form a visual diary of the artist over the forty years of his career. There was a gradual shift from engravings, more numerous until the 1630s, to paintings, which became more frequent after that.

Rembrandt’s significant contribution to the history of printmaking was his transformation of the etching process from a relatively new reproductive technique into a pure art form. His reputation as one of the greatest etcher of the medium was established in his lifetime. Few of his paintings left the Dutch Republic during his lifetime, but his prints did circulate throughout Europe, and his wider reputation was initially based on them alone.

A Tour of Rembrandt’s Art

  • The Polish Rider
    • “The Polish Rider” depicts a young man travelling on horseback through a dark and gloomy landscape. It is not known whether the painting was a portrait of a particular person, living or historical, or the story it represents. There is also some uncertainty about who is the artist of this painting. However, the quality of the art and complex expression on the Rider’s brilliantly painted face all point to Rembrandt, and that is the greatest consensus of the experts. The identity of the portrayed figure has encouraged various theories, but no clear answer. The outfit of the rider, the weapons and even the breed of horse are believed to be Polish or eastern European. The young rider appears to be facing potential danger in the mountainous landscape. Some historical and biblical characters have been suggested. Including the speculation that the figure is an idealistic representation of a “soldier of Christ”, meaning a soldier defending Eastern Europe against the Turks. Museum: Frick Collection
  • The Night Watch
    • “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn depicts a company of military men moving out, led by the Captain dressed in black, with a red sash and his lieutenant dressed in yellow, with a white sash. The Night Watch is one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings. The painting is noteworthy for its colossal size, its dramatic use of light and shadow, plus the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a traditional static military group portrait. Rembrandt has skillfully used sunlight and shade to lead the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd. They are the two gentlemen in the centre from whom the painting gets its original title, and the woman in the centre-left background carrying a dead chicken tied to her belt. Rembrandt has displayed the woman with the claws of a dead chicken on her belt to represent the symbols of the arquebusiers, and she is holding the militia’s goblet. The dead chicken represents a defeated adversary. The colour yellow is often associated with victory. Museum: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • The Jewish Bride
    • “The Jewish Bride” by Rembrandt, gained its name in the early 19th century when an Amsterdam art collector identified the couple as a Jewish father bestowing a necklace upon his daughter on her wedding day. This interpretation is no longer accepted, and the identity of the couple is uncertain. The likeliest depiction is that of Isaac and Rebecca, as described in Genesis 26:8, and is view is supported by a drawing by Rembrandt with the same theme which shows the couple in a similar composition. The painting was probably a commissioned portrait of a couple in the guise of a biblical pair such as Isaac and Rebecca and is a brilliant colour creation. The composition is an enduring expression of tenderness and love. The couple’s embrace is at the centre of this poignant painting. The man’s loving gesture is returned with a gentle caress. The couple shows all the signs of tenderness towards each other, so this is not a typical seduction scene, which was a favourite at the time. This painting shows Rembrandt’s genius for expressing human emotion and is one of the great portrait paintings of the last period of his career. Museum: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • The Raising of Lazarus
    • “The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt, depicts the scene from the New Testament Bible. For the creation of this composition, Rembrandt experimented with drawings and etchings on this subject with differing configurations. This scene is in a tomb with Christ standing in the cave with his hand raised to perform the miracle. Rembrandt represents Lazarus’s rising as caused by Christ’s forceful gesture and his faith. Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha look on in amazement, as do the other spectators. The astounded witnesses’ expressions record successive states of awareness and awe. The dramatic darkness of the cave is in contrast to the subtle colours in the costumes. The glinting highlights of the quiver and scabbard hanging on the wall were Lazarus’ weapons, as according to mediaeval legend, Lazarus was a soldier. Museums: Museum:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Christ and the Woman of Samaria
    • “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt depicts a scene of an old Bible tale from the New Testament. The Samaritan woman at the well is a figure from the Gospel of John. In Eastern Christian traditions, she is venerated as a saint with the name Photine meaning “the luminous one”. According to the biblical account, Jesus was travelling through Samaria, and when he came to a well and tired from his journey, he sat by the well. His disciples had gone ahead to the nearby city to buy food. At noon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” She expressed her surprise that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan, to which Jesus replied: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.” Rembrandt depicts this encounter as the woman struggles to understand Christ’s message. This episode has been seen to symbolise the conversion of gentiles by Christ. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
  • Self Portrait at the Age of 63
    • “Self Portrait at the Age of 63” by Rembrandt was the last in his long series of self-portraits and painted in the year of his death. This painting is one of his final pictures. Despite his impending death, Rembrandt presents a self-assured and confident self. Rembrandt employed his usual somewhat limited palette of lead white, ochres and red flakes. The artist has depicted himself wearing a deep red coat and a beret, his hands clasped. The composition draws the viewer to the face and is confronted by his steady and resolute gaze. When this painting was X-rayed, it revealed alterations to the composition. The most significant change was in the arrangement of the hands. The initial position of the hands in this painting was more animated and dramatic, and one of the hands was holding a paintbrush. Rembrandt changed the positioning and drama of the hands to make them more subtle and clasped before him and without the brush. Rembrandt deliberately diminished the impact of the hands to draw attention to the face and the eyes. All of Rembrandt’s self-portraits were created by the artist looking at himself in a mirror, and so his self-portraits are in reverse to his real features. Museum: The National Gallery, London
  • Wide-Eyed Self-Portrait
    • “Wide-Eyed Self-Portrait” by Rembrandt is one of the many self-portrait etchings made by the master. This example was a study of expressions that features the shameless, dominant feature of all Rembrandt’s self-portraits, his nose. In this etching, Rembrandt was studying an expression assumed to be a wide-eyed surprised look. He was about twenty-four years old in this depiction. Overall Rembrandt created about eighty self-portraits consisting of over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings. The self-portraits form a visual diary of the artist over the forty years of his career. There was a gradual shift from etchings, more numerous until the 1630s, to paintings, which became more common after that. Museum: Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Rembrandt

A Tour of Artists and their Art

Reflections

  • Does Rembrandt’s personality shine through in this art?

Rembrandt Quotes

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“Try to put well in practice what you already know, and in doing so, you will in good time find the hidden things which you now inquire about.”

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“Practice what you know, and it will help you to make clear what you do not know.”

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“Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.”

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“Practise what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.”

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“Sincerity is the eventual deception of all great men.”

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“Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.”

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“I envy the poet. He is encouraged toward drunkenness and wallows with nubile wenches while the painter must endure wretchedness and pain for his art.”

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“Painting is the grandchild of Nature.”

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“A painting is finished when the artist says it is finished.”

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“Practice what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know.”

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“For in these two paintings, the greatest and most natural movement has been expressed, which is also the main reason why they have taken so long to execute.”

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“Of course, you will say that I ought to be practical and ought to try and paint the way they want me to paint. Well, I will tell you a secret. I have tried and I have tried very hard, but I can’t do it. I just can’t do it! And that is why I am just a little crazy.”

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“Painting is the grandchild of nature. It is related to God.”

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“But his faith is a faith that to him is real, and it is a faith, in my judgement, that sustained him through the hard times in his life.”

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“Without atmosphere a painting is nothing.”

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“A painting is complete when it has the shadows of a god.”

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“Choose only one master – Nature.”

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“A painting is not made to be sniffed.”

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“A painting is complete when it has the shadows of god.”
– Rembrandt

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Photo Credit: 1)Rembrandt or workshop [Public domain]

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