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Rembrandt van Rijn
Baroque (1600-1750) Painting
(Leiden, Netherlands, July 15, 1606 - October 4, 1669, Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Revered as both a painter and printmaker, Rembrandt is regarded as the greatest genius in all of Dutch art. No other artist exploited light and tonal variations as he did or could match the psychological penetration of his compositions. Born in Leiden on July 15, 1606, Rembrandt was enrolled in Leiden University at age 14. Two years later, he became a pupil of Jacob van Swanenburgh, studying drawing and painting with him for three years. In 1625, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, serving a six-month apprenticeship with Pieter Lastman. He returned to Leiden by 1626, opening his own workshop. His first pupil, Gerrit Dou, entered in 1628. Rembrandt relocated to Amsterdam permanently in 1631 and worked for the art dealer van Uylenburgh for at least two years. He married van Uylenburgh’s niece Saskia in 1634, and by the time their son Titus was born in 1641, Rembrandt was one of the leading painters in Amsterdam.
Thematically, Rembrandt was greatly interested in history paintings and Old Testament scenes. He produced small scenes with few characters, allowing him to focus on expression and the interrelationship between his protagonists. Using a flood of light, Rembrandt drew attention to the central figures and heightened drama. Rembrandt produced ‘tronies,’ portraits of patrons dressed in historical costume, to combine portraiture with his interest in historical painting. By the early 1630s, Rembrandt was receiving portrait commissions from prominent citizens. He had little time for drawing or etching, averaging one portrait a month for over four years. In the mid 1630s, Rembrandt’s etchings and drawings came to include landscapes. He was an innovator in the technique of drypoint, using its effects to add velvety shadows to these landscapes, as well as grace and monumentality to figures. Rembrandt’s fascination with expression also led him to create almost sixty self-portraits. These studies showed his own emotional development, being very theatrical in the 1630s, but frank and introspective later in his career.
Rembrandt turned back to biblical drawings in the early 1640s, and made thirteen etchings in 1641 alone. From 1640-7, he worked on a portrait for the Kloveniersdoelen; ‘The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq’ (popularly known as ‘The Night Watch’) became one of his most famous works. Rembrandt turned away from painting between 1647 and 1652. Scholars attribute this only in part to exhaustion after the commission; Rembrandt had also lost his wife Saskia in 1642, which added greatly to his psychological strain.
Rembrandt’s debts and unsuccessful art dealings caught up with him in 1654. He sold much of his fine collection of Flemish, Italian, German, and Dutch prints in 1655 and 1658, and he declared bankruptcy in 1656. Contrary to long-standing belief, this crisis did not leave Rembrandt a pauper. He received several commissions from the State, guilds, and affluent citizens throughout the 1650-60s. In 1660, Rembrandt put his workshop into the names of Hendrickje, his second wife, and his son Titus, who became his business manager. Hendrickje died in 1663 and Titus died from plague in 1668. On October 4, 1669, Rembrandt also died.
Today, Rembrandt remains a major figure in Western art. The Rijksmuseum opened in Amsterdam in 1885; other major Rembrandt collections were compiled in Berlin and at the British Museum. Because Rembrandt signed many of his pupils’ works, attribution debates continue to rage, and most of his paintings have undergone detailed technical analysis to verify their authenticity. From 1954-7, Rembrandt’s drawings were thoroughly described and reproduced in a six-volume catalogue, and in 1968 five Dutch scholars began the Rembrandt Research Project. Their goal was the technical study and recataloging of Rembrandt’s paintings. They produced three catalogues of "The Corpus of Rembrandt Painting," then disbanded in 1993 to make way for a new team of researchers. Over three hundred years after his death, Rembrandt still inspires artists and scholars and excites controversy.