Friday, September 23, 2011


Rembrandt van Rijn lived from 1606 to 1669 and was one of the greatest artist of the Dutch Golden Age and one of the most innovative painters in art history. He fused classical iconography with his own experience and used real people as his models for his paintings, drawings, and etchings that were portraits, self-portraits, and depictions of scenes from the bible. Rembrandt seamlessly melded the earthly and spiritual as no other painter in Western art.

The most prominent aspect of his paintings was the light and his use of chiaroscuro, the theatrical employment of light and shadow that came from Caravaggio. There is a loose paint quality to his work, especially in his late paintings where foreground and background elements merge as opposed to being separated and rigidly formal. In his biblical works, such as The Raising of the Cross and The Stoning of Saint Stephen, he often painted himself into the crowd infusing the personal human element into a scene of spirituality. His compositions leave a lot of negative space that adds to the spare emotional beauty of his works. There is a deep compassion for mankind in the faces of his subjects. 

One of his greatest paintings was The Night Watch (1642) which was a massive group portrait, where Rembrandt had to find solutions for narrative and compositional problems. Instead of showing the militia as stately and formal, he created an action scene with the men readying themselves for a mission.

In the 1650s when he was nearly bankrupt, a court ordered the contents of his house in Amsterdam to be inventoried for sale. Among the possessions were three small paintings of Jesus, one listed as "Head of Christ, done from life."  Rembrandt used a young Sephardic Jewish man from his neighborhood as the model of Christ, and again this image fuses the human and the spiritual into a portrait of great beauty.

Rembrandt produced around 40 self-portraits that trace his progression from an uncertain young man, to the successful portrait painter of the 1630s, to the troubled but incredibly powerful portraits of his old age. Late in life, Rembrandt lost his money and had to sell his house and printing press. The late self-portraits are beautifully painted and contain a powerful and tragic quality.

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