Rembrandt van Rijn
1606 - 1669
by Jan Melkert
Around 1900 the total number of pictures attributed to Rembrandt by connoisseurs (professionals) of the Works amounted to about 1000 paintings (only the paintings, not the drawings).
Nowadays the number of works attributed to Rembrandt amount to some 250. This is the result of the increased knowledge of the works of Rembrandt. Art historians are now able to distinguish work of the master himself from the works of his pupils. Many of the works formerly attributed to Rembrandt are now seen as works of his pupils. Rembrandt had a lot of pupils when he was at the height of his fame. Pupils also meant a part of his income.
Knowledge of the life of Rembrandt is at the first place based on indirect sources such as the papers of his bankruptcy in 1656.
On the Latin school in Leiden Rembrandt learned about classical history and mythology. The knowledge of these disciplines he could use in his work as a painter. Rembrandt was nevertheless a man who stood in the reality of life. He was an observer of the behaviour of people. And you can see that used his observations in his work.
His education as a painter he received in Leiden, where he was born. After the Latin school he chooses for a painter’s education. His master was Jacob van Swanenburgh. Rembrandt leaves Leiden in 1624. He went to Amsterdam for a learning period of a year with master Pieter Lastman. Here he learned to how to paint Bible stories, classical mythology and profane history pieces and portraits of the city police (schutterstukken). One of Rembrandts earliest pictures is a scene from the Bible. He painted it in 1626. From 1628 -1630 he works together with Jan Lievens, also a student. From 1630 Rembrandt is himself a master with pupils and his own working place (atelier). One of his early pupils is e.g. Gerard Dou.
Constantijn Huygens, the secretary of the stadtholder prince of Orange Frederik Hendrik, visited during the period of 1630 Rembrandt in his working place. There is conserved a very little part of correspondence between Constantijn Huygens and Rembrandt. Nine letters about payments for an order by Frederik Hendrik to Rembrandt to paint four pictures. It concerned four scenes from the Bible.
The typical essence of the style of Rembrandt can be seen in the early works of Rembrandt. In other words: there is a continuity of style in the works of Rembrandt. That typical characteristic style of Rembrandt is the contrast between light and dark: the “clair-obscure” contrast.
This style is not totally new, for Caravaggio e.g. worked in this style before Rembrandt. Another characteristic of the manner/style of Rembrandt is the rough manner in which he puts on the paint on the surface of the picture. In his manner the result is a rough surface. You could say that Rembrandt painted in the manner of what in the 19th century was called the impressionistic way of painting. Fast painting with an light stroke of the brushes. It was this way of painting, certainly in the later years of his life (from 1650), that Rembrandt became less popular. For the taste of the average people, buying pictures was totally different. People preferred paintings in the classical way. Clear paintings, straight colours, transparent figures. Clear drawing like paintings.\ with clear colours. “Fijn schilderen” it is called in Dutch.
Rembrandt went to Amsterdam in 1631. This city was the centre of economic development with a rich upper class, who could afford to buy paintings. Here in Amsterdam he worked together with his (later) father in law Hendrik Uylenburgh. Hendrik Uylenburgh was a merchant in art (he had a what we now should call a gallery). In the years 1630 to 1650 the fame of Rembrandt grew also outside the Netherlands. He married a niece of Hendrik Uylenburgh, Saskia Uylenburgh. In 1639 he buys a house in the Antoni Breestraat (it is nowadays the Rembrandt museum), an expensive house at that time, which Rembrandt in fact could not afford. Here he paints his masterworks (except the Nachtwacht, which he painted somewhere else in 1640/1641). After the death of Saskia (and two children), there follows a difficult time as to his personal relations. He twice started a relation with his servant maids. Relations which led to problems with the council of the protestant church and with the city council. In 1656 Rembrandt went bankrupt, which is partially a consequence of his expensive lifestyle and less orders.
In this later period his self portraits and other works become more and more realistic. This means for instance that paints himself as an old man with all the signs of his age. He had to move to a smaller and cheaper apartment. The selling of his works becomes more difficult. And in this later period his only son Titus died a few years before the death of Rembrandt himself in 1669.
Important Works of Rembrandt
The return of the lost son 1622
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The rape of Ganymedes 1635
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_-_Ganymede.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The blind making of Samson 1636
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_041.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The anatomical lesson of Professor Tulp 1632
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Anatomy_Lesson.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The nachtwacht 1642
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Nightwatch_by_Rembrandt.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bathsheba_at_Her_Bath.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
Bathing woman 1655
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_baadster.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The Jewish bride 1667
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_Het_Joodse_bruidje.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.
The Sampling Officials1662
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_-_Klesveverlaugets_forstandere_i_Amsterdam.jpg | Click on the picture to go to its source.