Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is generally considered the most important Dutch painter of the 17th century. Rembrandt was also a proficient engraver and made many drawings. His contributions to art were made in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age (roughly equivalent to the 17th century), in which Dutch culture, science, commerce, world power and political influence reached its pinnacle.
All in all, Rembrandt produced around 600 paintings, 300 etchings and 2000 drawings. He was a prolific painter of self-portraits, producing almost a hundred of them (including some 20 etchings) throughout his long career. Together they give us a remarkably clear picture of the man, his looks, but more importantly his emotions, as misfortune and sorrow etched wrinkles in his face.
His command of light and dark, often using stark contrasts, draws the viewer into the painting. His dramatic and lively scenes, devoid of any rigid formality, and his deep felt compassion for mankind are among the prominent characteristics of his work.
His immediate family, his first wife Saskia, his son Titus, and his second wife Hendrickje often figured prominently in his paintings, many of which had mythical, biblical, or historical themes.
The great Dutch innovator.
Location:Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague, Holland
This is the painting with which Rembrandt established his reputation as a portrait painter. The group shows seven members of Amsterdam's surgeon guild in 1628. The bright corpse dominates the foreground and seems to illuminate the heads. Dr Nicolaes Tulp, on the right, holds forceps in his right hand, lifting the muscles and tendons of the arm that control the movement of the hand, while the bent fingers of his left hand demonstrate an aspect of their delicate action. The personality of each character is finely drawn. The tension emanating from this beautiful painting is palatable.
Location:The Dresden Gallery, Dresden, Germany
Saskia was Rembrandt's wife and this painting seems to indicate that they had a good time together. There is a celebratory, snapshot mood, Rembrandt looking directly at the viewer. His left had casually and sensually rest on Saskia's back. She seems to be sitting on his lap. Rembrandt is dressed splendidly and he holds up a flagon of ale to perhaps propose a toast to the good life.
Location:Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany
The man in this painting may have been Rembrandt's brother Adriaen who was a cobbler in Leiden, but this is not certain. Rembrandt had no shortage of work. As with most of his painting, this one was commissioned by a wealthy Dutch citizen. What makes the painting so curious is a strange visual conflict. We see an old, tired and dejected looking man dressed in an incredibly ornate and victorious looking helmet. The sadness of the face contrasts curiously with the splendour of the helmet. The helmet itself was part of Rembrandt's own collection. This painting was greatly admired by the Impressionists of the late 19th century.
Location:The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA
This painting speaks of peace and tranquillity. Here is a romantic view of nature as dusk settles and the day fades away. The three elements, earth, water and sky seem to dance with each other. The Mill, a man-made object stands tall as a cathedral. There is no suggestion of movement. The wings are almost transparent, forming the shape of a cross. This painting influenced many landscape painters that followed in later times. It is considered one of essential landscape paintings of all time.
This painting marks a turning point in Rembrandt's work and it was his fourth painting of 1626. The group of people here are said to be members of his family. His older brother Gerrit appears as the cellist, his sister as the singer-courtesian in classical dress and his mother dressed as a prophetess. They appeared frequently in his early works. Rembrandt himself appears as the harp player. The painting shows how Rembrandt often tried to tell a story with his paintings, yet incorporated portraiture at the same time.
Location:Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
This is Rembrandt's first work based on the apocryphal Book of Tobit, one of his lifelong favorite readings. The formal source of the picture is an engraving by Jan van der Velde inspired by a 1619 drawing by Willem Buytewech. The scene is set in a humble room filled with everyday objects - a bird cage, a plait of garlic and wicker baskets where the old Tobit, fallen into poverty, sits near the window. Standing next to him is his wife Anna, holding the kid in her arms. On the floor is Tobit's cane, a little dog near the fire and a candelabrum. Anna presents Tobit with the young goat but he assumes it is stolen. She says that her employer gave it to her. He doesn't believe her and so prays to God for death. What is outstanding in this painting with respect to the model is the meticulous attention to the details of the domestic scene. To highlight important elements such as the old man's shabby cloak, his pose and Anna, Rembrandt used two light sources, the window on the left and the fire in the lower right.
Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.