The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

The Raising of Lazarus

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - The Raising of Lazarus - Google Art Project

“The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt, depicts the raising of Lazarus as told in the New Testament Bible in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11. Rembrandt also made drawings and etchings on this subject, but with differing compositions.

The scene is in a tomb with Christ standing in the cave with his hand raised to perform the miracle, his face filled with apprehension and triumph. Rembrandt represents Lazarus’s rising as directly caused by Christ’s forceful gesture and in response to the divine power of 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 of mauve, rose, and aqua in the costumes or the glinting highlights of the quiver and scabbard hanging at the right. They were Lazarus’ weapons hung on the wall, as according to mediaeval legend, Lazarus was a soldier.

B072 Rembrandt

“The Raising of Lazarus” etching by Rembrandt – 1642 from the Rijksmuseum Museum

Rembrandt painted and drew many stories and parables of the Old and New Testaments in accessible and familiar images. The Dutch Reformed Calvinism at Rembrandt’s time forbade religious art in churches, thus there was limited public commissions for paintings of biblical subjects. Fortunately, private patronage for them thrived and Rembrandt tapped into this demand.

Rembrandt’s paintings have influenced many successive painters. Including Van Gogh who also painted a painting called “The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt)”, based on a print by Rembrandt. However only part of the composition, he left out the main figure of Christ with his arm raised. Van Gogh focused on the human suffering and identified with Lazarus in the tomb. Note that Lazarus in the Van Gogh painting below, has a red beard, just like Van Gogh.


The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt by Vincent van Gogh (1890)

Many of Rembrandt paintings can be found in museums across the world, depict famous story narratives and scenes. My favourites include:

  • The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632 at the Mauritshuis, The Hague
  • Belshazzar’s Feast, 1635 at the National Gallery, London
  • The Night Watch, 1642 at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
  • Bathsheba at Her Bath, 1654 at The Louvre, Paris
  • Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild, 1662 at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         The Raising of Lazarus
  • Artist:                       Rembrandt
  • Year:                         1630-1632
  • Medium:                  Oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions            H: 96.4 cm (38 in). W: 81.3 cm (32 in).
  • Museum:                 Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                        Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn
  • Born:                          1606 – Leiden, Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands)
  • Died:                          1669 (aged 63) – Amsterdam, Dutch Republic (Netherlands)
  • Nationality:              Dutch
  • Movement:               Dutch Golden Age, Baroque


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Photo Credit: 1) Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Vincent van Gogh [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons