1606 - 1669
Of the few artists classified as "greatest of the great,"
Rembrandt is the most accessible to us. Through more than one hundred
self-portraits, we follow his path from the brashness of youth to the high good
spirits and prosperity of middle life to the melancholy loneliness of old age.
Rembrandt's penetrating self-portraits represent a search for the self, but to
the viewer they are a revelation of the self.
Born in the Dutch city of Leiden, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
was the son of a miller. At fourteen he began art lessons in Leiden and
later studied with a master in Amsterdam. By the age of twenty-two he had
pupils of his own. About 1631 he settled permanently in Amsterdam, having
by then attracted considerable fame as a portrait painter. Thus began for
Rembrandt a decade of professional success and personal happiness... a high point
that would never come again in his life.
In 1634 Rembrandt married Saskia van Uijlenburgh, an heiress of
good family, thus improving his own social status. The pair must have been
rather a dashing couple-about-Amsterdam. The artist's portraits were in
demand, his style was fashionable, and he had money enough to indulge himself in
material possessions, especially to collect art. One blight on this happy
period was the arrival of four children, none of whom survived. But in
1641 Rembrandt's beloved son Titus was born.
Rembrandt's range as an artist was enormous. He was master
not only of painting but of drawing and of the demanding technique of etching
for prints. (it is said that Rembrandt went out sketching with an etcher's
needle, as other artists might carry a pencil.) Besides the many
portraits, the artist displayed unparalleled genius in other themes, including
landscapes and religious scenes.
In 1642 Rembrandt's fortunes again changed, this time,
irrevocably, for the worse. Saskia died not long after giving birth to
Titus. The artist's financial affairs were in great disarray, no doubt
partly because of his self-indulgence in buying art and precious objects.
Although he continued to work and to earn money, Rembrandt showed little talent
for money management. Ultimately he was forced into bankruptcy and had to
sell not only his art collection but even Saskia's burial plot. About 1649
Hendrickje Stoffels came to live with Rembrandt, and she is thought of as his
second wife, although they did not marry legally. She joined forces with
Titus to form an art dealership in an attempt to protect the artist from his
creditors. Capping the long series of tragedies that marked Rembrandt's
later life, Hendrickje died in 1663 and Titus in 1668, and year before his
Rembrandt's legacy is almost totally a visual one. He does
not seem to have written much. Ironically, one of the few recorded
comments comes in a letter to a patron, begging for payment... payment for
paintings that are now considered priceless and hang in one of the world's great
"I pray you my kind lord that my warrant might now be prepared
at once so that I may now at last receive my well-earned 1244 guilders and I
shall always seek to recompense your lordship for this with reverential service
and proof of friendship."
Source: Living With Art 5th Edition