Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606 in Leiden, The Netherlands. He attended Latin school before enrolling at Leiden University in 1620 (although he never graduated).

Rembrandt studied painting under two famous Dutch painters; the Leiden painter Jacob van Swanenburch, and the Amsterdam painter Pieter Lastman. In Leiden, he set up a studio for independent artists. In his early years as an established painter, Rembrandt painted numerous biblical scenes. They were usually small paintings with great detail and bright colors.

In 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam. Here he found a much larger demand for portraits, that he painted on commission. He also taught many pupils, including Ferdinand Bol, Govert Flinck, and Carel Fabritius. Rembrandt also painted many historic scenes, and several etches and drawings. In 1642, Rembrandt painted a historic group portrait of the Company of Frans Banning Cocq, which later became famous as "De Nachtwacht" (The Nightwatch, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

Rembrandt married Saskia Uylenburgh in 1634, but a year after their son Titus was born (1641), Saskia died. Rembrandt then took on his housekeeper Geertje Dircks, and later Hendrickje Stoffels, with whom he had a daughter in 1654.

Later in his life, Rembrandt built up considerable debts, and was forced to sell his house and possessions. He died in 1669, and was buried in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt is famous for his chiaroscuro, the use of light and shade rather than color. His heritage consists of more than 600 paintings, and approximately 300 etchings.


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 father.

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 museums. 

"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

The painting I'll be reviewing: "Christ with Arms Folded" by Rembrandt van Rijn (van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmenszoon. 1659. Christ with Folded Arms. Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, NY. Web. 27 March 2015.) 

Rembrandt's painting was typical of the Baroque period (starting in Rome and lasting from aroud 1600-1725), incorporating chiaroscuro to highlight the central element of the painting and the use of a religious icon as the subject, in this instance the figure of a serene Christ. Because of a low-level tension generated by the actions and edicts from Catholic Church which caused many learned people to revolt, the Church turned to convincing the general illiterate masses not to defect or attempt to bring about reform. They turned to hiring the best artists to produce great works of religious-themed art, which would be used to appeal to the lower classes of society. Rembrandt's painting shows a carefully controlled application of color and tight brushwork, culminating in a serene depiction of a sacred Christ, designed to show the peasant classes that the Church was the source of control and the embodiment of religion in Europe. Because the Protestant Church did not typically commission art (particularly when compared to the Catholic Church), believing art was purely ornamental and not sacred, Rembrandt painted many commissioned pieces for the Catholic Church while personally remaining a Dutch Protestant. Author W. A. Visser't Hooft noted that "(Rembrandt) kept aloof from any dogmatism," and "Rembrandt is the only artist to have rendered the genuine temper of the Gospel correctly." (W. A. Visser't Hooft, "Rembrandt and the Gospel" (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), pg 109-110). 

Rembrandt's work helped to solidify the Baroque period's commonalities, including chiaroscuro and impasto. His style was looked upon as a fluid entity, since he constantly experimented and modified his style, sometimes within a single painting. An example of this evolution within a painting can be seen in "Night Watch" (Rembrandt, 1640-1642). 

"Seen over his whole career, the changes in Rembrandt’s style are remarkable. His approach to composition and his rendering of space and light—like his handling of contour, form, and colour, his brushwork, and (in his drawings and etchings) his treatment of line and tone—are subject to gradual (or sometimes abrupt) transformation." ( Britannica Encyclopedia. Web. 21 March 2015.) 

Additionally, the Protestant feeling that spirituality was part and parcel of the material world influenced his paintings, bringing in special lighting techniques such as chiaroscuro to bring the feeling of divine light to his paintings of religious-based figures. He did this often, since about a third of his paintings ended up being based on religious subjects.

I’ve personally viewed this painting at the Hyde Museum in Glens Falls, New York. Even though I’m not a religious person, the painting evoked a sense of quiet, dignified serenity. The group I was with on the tour all became silent when we viewed this painting. It was an interesting reaction to the work of Rembrandt’s masterful work.

Iron Noder 2017

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