Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardship. Yet his drawings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high and for twenty years he taught nearly every important Dutch painter. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries and self-portraits. The self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.
At the end of 1631, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, then rapidly expanding as the new business capital of the Netherlands, and began to practice as a professional portraitist for the first time, with great success. He initially stayed with an art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburg, and in 1634, married Hendrick's cousin, Saskia van Uylenburg. In 1635 Rembrandt and Saskia moved into their own house, renting in fashionable Nieuwe Doelenstraat. In 1639, they moved to a prominent house (now the Rembrandt House Museum) in the Jodenbreestraat.
In contrast to his successful public career, however, Rembrandt's family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635 and 1641 Saskia gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own death came in 1642. Hendrickje Stoffels, engaged as his housekeeper about 1649, eventually became his common-law wife and was the model for many of his pictures.
In a letter to Huyghens, Rembrandt offered the only surviving explanation of what he sought to achieve through his art: the greatest and most natural movement, translated from die meeste ende di naetuereelste beweechgelickheijt. The word "beweechgelickhijt" is also argued to mean "emotion" or "motive." Whether this refers to objectives, material or otherwise is open to interpretation; either way, Rembrandt seamlessly melded the earthly and spiritual as has no other painter in Western art.
Earlier 20th century connoisseurs claimed Rembrandt had produced over 600 paintings, nearly 400 etchings and 2,000 drawings. More recent scholarship, from the 1960s to the present day (led by the Rembrandt Research Project), often controversially, have winnowed his oeuvre to nearer 300 paintings. His prints, traditionally all called etchings, although many are produced in whole or part by engraving and sometimes drypoint, have a much more stable total of slightly under 300. It is likely he made many more drawings in his lifetime than 2,000, but those extant are more rare than presumed.
At one time about ninety paintings were counted as Rembrandt self-portraits, but it is now known that he had his students copy his own self-portraits as part of their training. Modern scholarship has reduced the autograph count to over forty paintings, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings, which include many of the most remarkable images of the group. Many show him posing in quasi-historical fancy dress, or pulling faces at himself. His oil paintings trace the progress from an uncertain young man, through the dapper and very successful portrait-painter of the 1630s, to the troubled but massively powerful portraits of his old age. Together they give a remarkably clear picture of the man, his appearance and his psychological make-up, as revealed by his richly-weathered face.
The famous painting showing the anatomy lesson was created in 1632. Rembrandt was 26 at the time. He had been settled in Amsterdam for the past year. Before that time, he had already spent two years in this teeming city, as a pupil of Pieter Lastman, who passed on to him Caravaggio’s technique of chiaroscuro. When there was nothing further to be learnt from the Amsterdam master, Rembrandt had gone back to his native Leiden. He was noticed by Constantijn Huygens, a statesman in the service of the House of Orange and a great art lover, who recommended him to Uylenburgh, an art dealer in Amsterdam. Uylenburgh had a keen eye for talent, and immediately passed on to Rembrandt Professor Nicolaes Tulp’s commission for a group portrait.
Nicolaes Tulp was one of these people that took centre stage in 17th-century Amsterdam. He was 39 in the year the Anatomy Lesson was painted.
He was a man of learning, a surgeon and an anatomist. For 4 years, he had been Praelector Anatomiae at the Guild of Surgeons. His treatises on monsters were famous. He was the first to describe the ileocaecal valve, although credit for the discovery later, wrongly, went to the Swiss Bauhin. However, Tulp was, first and foremost, a political animal: he was city treasurer eight times, and four times burgomaster of Amsterdam.
Tulp had decided to be shown in his natural environment, giving an anatomy lesson. Most of the seven other figures in the painting were wealthy middle-class citizens of Amsterdam. Only two of the observers were physicians.
An opportunity for a dissection arose on 16 January, 1632.
The date can be pinpointed very accurately: the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons would allow only one public dissection a year; the body to be dissected had to be that of an executed criminal. The winter months were a useful time, since the bodies would keep better during the demonstrations that usually went on for several days. A man called Aris Kindt had been hanged for armed robbery. Immediately after the execution, his body was taken to the Anatomy Theatre of the Guild of Surgeons.
In Rembrandt’s painting, the surrounding scenery is barely visible. Behind the figures, everything recedes into shadows through which one can vaguely discern a stone archway, a set of rules posted on a wall, an open tome - probably an anatomy treatise, perhaps the one by Vesalius published in 1543. The lesson that is being given is not only for the benefit of the observers in the picture. Professor Tulp is looking beyond those crowding around the dissection table, towards an audience that the spectator can readily imagine. Rembrandt, of course, is there as well. The composition of the painting is a stroke of genius. Group portraits were produced in large numbers in the 17th century; however, they were usually stiff and formal. In the Dutch culture of egalitarianism, great care was taken to ensure that all the subjects in the picture were placed in the same way, so that no one was particularly prominent. In order not to offend anybody, all the figures were grouped in strict symmetry. To study the established style, one need only look at the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Sebastian Egbertsz, painted by Thomas de Keyzer in 1619. On either side of the mid-line (marked by the skeleton), the figures are arranged in two perfectly symmetrical triangles. The object of the anatomy lesson, the skeleton, is merely a bit of decor. This painting was at the back of Rembrandt’s mind. He was determined to break with this code of static uniformity, without, however, making any one member of the group more prominent than the others - with the obvious exception of Tulp himself, who had to be shown as the person in control of the event depicted. On the right-hand side of the picture, the anatomist’s figure is inscribed within a pyramid surmounted by a wide-brimmed black hat, the symbol of his high social standing. The observers, who counterbalance the overpowering figure of the anatomist, are arranged in two intersecting geometrical patterns - a pyramid, whose summit is the figure that towers above the others (and who is probably standing on a stool), and an oblique diamond shape, one of whose corners is marked by the observer who holds a piece of paper with the names of all the sitters. This diamond pattern draws the scene into the middle ground, while life and variety are added by the direction of the gaze of the observers, the way they hold their heads, and the frames provided by the big white ruffs. In the centre, the dead man’s body is driven like a wedge among the mass of the living, an impression that is enhanced by the attitude of the observer leaning forward and casting a shadow over the dead man’s face. Thanks to this composition, the two protagonists in the picture are the cadaver and the anatomist. Rembrandt’s handling of light and contrast is equally remarkable: while, in the de Keyzer painting, the skeleton was only a device to enable the individual portraits to be grouped, Rembrandt makes the body the centrepoint of his picture, and uses it to heighten the drama of the occasion. As in many of his other paintings, especially in those of the second half of his career (The Jewish Bride is a case in point), Rembrandt makes the figures in the picture a source of light, endowing them with intrinsic luminosity. In the Anatomy, the light emanates from the cadaver. There must, of course, be an extrinsic light source as well, to the left of the picture - witness the deep shadows cast on the ruffs by the observers’ heads. However, this serves to create a first contrast across the picture, between the dark mass of Tulp’s figure and the weakly lit pyramid of the onlookers, to emphasize yet more strongly the psychological dominance of Professor Tulp. The second contrast is layered from the bottom of the picture upwards, between the dark assembly of the living and the cold ivory light emanating from the corpse, the body that has been opened to reveal the structures Tulp is teaching about. The light around the cadaver gradually fades into the shadows above, creating an enclosed and yet vague space, a malleable space in which the bodies form a mouldable entity. The dead man’s body is stiff and still - the observers’ bodies are in motion.
This is only to be expected. Like all of Rembrandt’s paintings, the Anatomy Lesson has both movement and the depth of human understanding.
By A.C. MASQUELET
Oil on canvas, 1642
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Rembrandt painted The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq between 1640 and 1642. This picture was called the Patrouille de Nuit by the French and the Night Watch by Sir Joshua Reynolds because, upon its discovery, the picture was so dimmed and defaced by time that it was almost indistinguishable and it looked quite like a night scene. After it was cleaned, it was discovered to represent broad day — a party of musketeers stepping from a gloomy courtyard into the blinding sunlight.
The piece was commissioned for the new hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, the musketeer branch of the civic militia. Rembrandt departed from convention, which ordered that such genre pieces should be stately and formal, rather a line-up than an action scene. Instead he showed the militia readying themselves to embark on a mission (what kind of mission, an ordinary patrol or some special event, is a matter of debate). His new approach caused a row, especially among the militia members who ended up at the back of the scene and were hardly visible. Payment was delayed. Even parts of the canvas were cut off to make the painting fit on the designated wall.
This painting now hangs in the largest hall of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is a large painting that takes up the entire back wall despite having had bits cut off and is arguably one of the most impressive paintings displayed there.
Rembrandt was also a proficient engraver and made many drawings. His contributions to art came 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 their pinnacles.
Rembrandt produced around 600 paintings, 300 etchings, and 2,000 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, and more importantly his emotions, as misfortune and sorrow etched wrinkles in his face.
(© Copyright Melanie Phillips, Melanies Pet Portraits, 1994)
In the 1650s, Rembrandt's style changed again. Paintings increased in size, colours became richer and brush strokes more pronounced. With these changes, Rembrandt distanced himself from earlier work and current fashion, which increasingly inclined toward fine, detailed works. His singular approach to paint application may have been suggested in part by familiarity with the work of Titian, and could be seen in the context of the then current discussion of 'finish' and surface quality of paintings. Contemporary accounts sometimes remark disapprovingly of the coarseness of Rembrandt's brushwork, and the artist himself was said to have dissuaded visitors from looking too closely at his paintings. The tactile manipulation of paint may hearken to medieval procedures, when mimetic effects of rendering informed a painting's surface. The end result is a richly varied handling of paint, deeply layered and often apparently haphazard, which suggests form and space in both an illusionistic and highly individual manner.
Self Portrait, 1658,
Oil on canvas
A masterpiece of the final style,
"the calmest and grandest of all his portraits"
Current location: Frick Collection
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
In the mature works of the 1650s, Rembrandt was more ready to improvise on the plate and large prints typically survive in several states, up to eleven, often radically changed. He now uses hatching to create his dark areas, which often take up much of the plate. He also experimented with the effects of printing on different kinds of paper, including Japanese paper, which he used frequently, and on vellum. He began to use "surface tone," leaving a thin film of ink on parts of the plate instead of wiping it completely clean to print each impression. He made more use of drypoint, exploiting, especially in landscapes, the rich fuzzy burr that this technique gives to the first few impressions.
(From From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Oil Paint Shop - Rembrandt van Rijn
(From Web Museum - Rembrandt)
Abraham Entertaining the Angels
The University of Michigan
Rembrandt died on October 4th, 1669, having been predeceased by Titus and Hendrickje. Only a daughter, Cornelia, by Hendrickje survived him. In his studio was the unfinished work, Simeon in the Temple.
Many would say this was an ordinary life of an extraordinary man. He never left his native Holland, even for Italy, a Mecca for painters of that time.
He lived during changing times of European society. That may have done as much for his notoriety as his skill as a painter.
(Written by Darrell Baizley - © 2002 Pagewise)
The Chronology of Rembrandt's Life
(From Veritus AG © 1995-2008, All rights reserved)