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Rembrandt

Rembrandt

A Virtual Tour of Rembrandt’s Art

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 Virtual Tour of Rembrandt’s Art

Highlights of Rembrandt’s Art

The Polish Rider

“The Polish Rider” depicts a young man traveling 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 the breed of horse are all 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 center from whom the painting gets its original title, and the woman in the center-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 color 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 color creation. The composition is an enduring expression of tenderness and love.

The couple’s embrace is at the center 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 favorite 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 colors in the costumes.

The glinting highlights of the quiver and scabbard hanging on the wall were Lazarus’ weapons, as according to medieval 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 traveling through Samaria, and when he came to a well, and he was tired, 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 symbolize 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.

Thus 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. T

here was a gradual shift from etchings, more numerous until the 1630s, to paintings, which became more common after that. Museum: Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Belshazzar’s Feast

“Belshazzar’s Feast” by Rembrandt depicts a story from the Old Testament Book of Daniel. The background of the story is that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had looted the Temple in Jerusalem.

He stole the sacred artifacts, such as the golden cups, from the Temple. In Book of Daniel, his son Belshazzar used these cups for a great feast. During the feast, the hand of God appeared and wrote an inscription on the wall.

Belshazzar and his advisers were not able to decipher the inscription and had to send for Daniel to help them with the translation. The inscription on the wall states: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. Y

ou have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.” Museum: National Gallery, London

Two Old Men Disputing

“Two Old Men Disputing” by Rembrandt depicts two seated men discussing the text of a book. One of the older men points to the page of the book held by the other man.

Rembrandt’s skill with dramatic lighting is shown with the brilliant shaft of sunlight falling diagonally to illuminate the object of interest while leaving most of the picture in darkness and shadow.

The contrasting light draws attention to the older man in white, whose beard and wrinkled skin have been beautifully painted. In the shadows, meticulous rendered can be seen in the candle, quill, the ink-stand, the table cloth, and the humble walls in the background.  Museum: National Gallery of Victoria

Philosopher in Meditation

“Philosopher in Meditation” by Rembrandt depicts two figures in a partially vaulted interior that is dominated by the central wooden spiral staircase. The architecture of the room includes stone, brick, and wood, with an arched window and arched doors.

This painting is one of the most geometrically complex works painted by Rembrandt. The composition comprises of many straight, curved, circular, and radiating lines.

The staircase is at the center of the composition, with the curved edges of the stair spiral orchestrating the consecutive straight lines. The figure on the left is that of an older man seated at a table in front of a window.

The man’s head is bowed and his hands folded in his lap. The figure on the right is that of an older woman tending a fire in an open hearth.

There is also a third figure of a woman standing in the stairs facing the viewer, but she is virtually invisible in the painting’s dark hue created by the aging of the varnish. The middle figure is visible in the 18th and 19th century engraved reproductions of this painting. Museum: Louvre Museum

The Woman Taken in Adultery

“The Woman Taken in Adultery” by Rembrandt depicts the episode of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery from the Gospel of John. In the story, some Jews tried to catch Jesus condoning disobedience of the Jewish Law.

The Scribes and Pharisees, knowing that Jesus empathized and forgave wrong-doers. To trap Jesus, they placed in front of him a woman who had been caught taking part in adultery.

Rembrandt shows the moment at which the Pharisees, attempting to outwit Jesus, by asking: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such.

What do you say about her?” Jesus replied: “He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone.” The accusers realizing not one of them was without sin then depart, leaving the woman alone. Museum: National Gallery, London

Susannah and the Elders

Susannah and the Elders by Rembrandt depicts a religious theme in art that was not as common in Holland due to the rise of Protestantism and a loss of favor for the Catholic traditions.

However, Rembrandt continued to explore Biblical themes, despite their waning popularity in Holland. Rembrandt initially based his painting on one by his teacher, Pieter Lastman. However, it is notably different in composition except for some similarities in the background.

Rembrandt’s figures are all active, with one elder taking hold of Susanna’s clothing while she twists to get away. Museum:  Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

The Return of the Prodigal Son

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt depicts the moment of the prodigal son’s return to his father. In the painting, the son has returned home in a wretched state after he has wasted his inheritance through wastefulness and extravagance.

Having fallen into poverty and despair, he kneels before his father in repentance. The Prodigal Son returns to the farther wishing for forgiveness and a renewed place in the family. His father receives him with a tender gesture of his hands, suggesting compassion.

Rembrandt has made the left hand larger and more masculine, and set it on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture.

It has been suggested that the hands seem to indicate the inclusiveness of both the mothering and fathering gestures. Museum: Hermitage Museum

The Prodigal Son in the Brothel

“The Prodigal Son in the Brothel” by Rembrandt depicts the extravagance of the prodigal son, as told in the Biblical parable. The son has asked his father for his inheritance, and this painting shows him squandering his fortune.

In the Protestant contemporary Dutch world, the theme of the prodigal son was a popular subject for works of art due to its moral tale. The people in the painting have been identified as Rembrandt himself and his wife, Saskia. Museum:  Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt depicts Dr. Tulp explaining the musculature of the arm to his medical colleagues using a deceased body.

The event occurred in 1632 at the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, of which Tulp was an official City Anatomist. The Guild was permitted one public dissection a year, and the body would have to be that of an executed criminal.

Anatomy lessons at the time were a social event taking place in lecture rooms with students, colleagues, and the general public being permitted to attend on payment of an entrance fee. T

he spectators and participants were dressed for this social occasion. The Surgeon’s Guild would commission a portrait by a leading portraitist of the period on a regular basis. Museum:  Mauritshuis

Moses with the Tablets of the Law

“Moses with the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt depicts Moses about to break the original two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. According to the biblical narrative, the first set of tablets were written by the finger of God.

The tablets were smashed by Moses when he was enraged by the sight of the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf. The second set of tablets was later chiseled out by Moses and rewritten by God.

According to the traditional teachings of Judaism, they were made of blue sapphire stone as a symbolic reminder of the sky. According to Exodus, the tablets were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. Museum: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

The Man with the Golden Helmet by Circle of Rembrandt

“The Man with the Golden Helmet” by Circle of Rembrandt is masterful artwork that had previously categorized as a work by Rembrandt for many years.

Doubts were expressed as to its provenance in 1984 by a Dutch curators’ commission specifically created to investigate Rembrandt’s works of questionable authenticity. Essential details in the painting’s style did not match the style of Rembrandt’s known works.

It is now believed to have been painted by one an unknown Rembrandt student or someone in his close circle. These artworks of questionable authenticity have been labeled as created by the “Circle of Rembrandt.” Museum: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

The Artist in his Studio

“The Artist in his Studio” by Rembrandt depicts the artist’s workshop, at the moment of confrontation between the artist and his canvas.

The easel assumes monumental dimensions, casting a shadow on the door. The canvas depicted in the painting is significantly larger than the actual canvas of this painting.

The artist wearing a wide-brimmed hat and smock and the canvas are the subject in the picture. The large panel on the easel has its back evocatively turned towards the viewer.

The theme of the artist in his studio was a popular one in seventeenth-century Dutch art. In contrast to most Dutch artists, Rembrandt depicts a bare room with the plaster cracked and peeling from its walls. Museum:  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Rembrandt

A Tour of Artists and their 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 judgment, 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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Rembrandt van Rijn – The Real Rembrandt

Why This Is Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

The Painting Life of Rembrandt van Rijn

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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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