Rembrandt Artur Life
Rembrandt is celebrated as the greatest Dutch artist—a remarkable painter of religious scenes and portraits, as well as a draughtsman (someone who draws) and an innovative etcher creating prints and engravings.
Rembrandt lived during a period in Dutch art history known as the “Golden Age”. It was a time when many outstanding painters, such as Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen, were producing great masterpieces and experimenting with new techniques. During the previous century there had been a long period of war, with the Dutch pitted against their Spanish rulers. In the early 17th century the two sides agreed a truce, which led to independence for the Dutch in 1648. Now that there was peace, Dutch trade increased, merchants became prosperous and many artists flourished.
REMBRANDT’S EARLY LIFE
Rembrandt’s full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, and he was born in Leiden, in the Netherlands, on July 15, 1606. He was the son of a well-to-do miller and went to the local grammar school. After a brief spell at Leiden University, Rembrandt began an apprenticeship as a painter with Jacob van Swanenburgh. But far more crucial were the six months he spent with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam in the mid-1620s. Lastman had lived in Italy, the artistic centre of Europe, and he had come back with many important new ideas about painting.
Rembrandt returned to Leiden and by the age of 22 had earned himself a reputation as a skilled history painter and portraitist. It was at this time that he started to paint his lifelong series of self-portraits.
LIFE IN AMSTERDAM
By 1632 Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam permanently and was living with the family of an art dealer called Hendrick van Uylenburgh. Rembrandt was a huge success. Many people commissioned him to paint their portraits and a number of students and other artists wanted to study his methods of painting.
In 1634 Rembrandt married Van Ulyenburgh’s niece, Saskia. Rembrandt and Saskia had four children, though only one, Titus, survived infancy. In 1642 Saskia died from tuberculosis. A few years later, Rembrandt employed a woman called Hendrijke Stoffels to help with running the household. Although they never married, she and Rembrandt had a daughter, Cornelia, in 1654. They lived together until Hendrijke died in 1663 during an outbreak of the plague.
For most of his career, Rembrandt was very successful. He spent his money on a grand town house and a large art collection, along with other luxuries. However, as he grew older there was less work and he was forced to sell his house and possessions. Rembrandt died on October 4, 1669 and was buried in an unknown grave in Amsterdam.
REMBRANDT’S PAINTINGS AND ETCHINGS: LEIDEN
The paintings Rembrandt created while in Leiden show the influence of his tutor, Lastman. Rembrandt chose religious and Classical themes, rather than still lifes of fruit or flowers, landscapes or portraits. The pictures are small and dramatically lit with a glossy surface, as in, for example, David with the Head of Goliath Before Saul (1627).
In these early works Rembrandt emphasized the drama at the heart of a story. This technique makes the viewer understand the feelings of the characters in the scene, through their gestures and expressions. This was quite a new way of doing things. He was also skilful at using dramatic contrasts of light and dark to create atmosphere.
Rembrandt also started his career as an etcher. He was very inventive in the techniques he used and the subject matter he chose to etch. His pictures ranged from scenes in the Bible, such as Presentation in the Temple (1631), to lively studies of everyday life, such as The Rat Catcher (1632).
REMBRANDT’S PAINTINGS AND ETCHINGS: AMSTERDAM
During the 1630s Rembrandt painted portraits of important people and continued to produce history paintings, although these were now done on a bigger, more monumental scale. Pictures such as the biblical scene Belshazzar’s Feast (c. 1635) illustrate Rembrandt’s new approach to history painting, as well as his ability to show the drama of the story and his expert painting technique. This painting is also a good example of how he continued to explore human expression—the astonishment and fear on the faces of Belshazzar and his guests are very striking.
Rembrandt also painted two famous group portraits, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (1632) and The Night Watch (1642). Both were remarkable for the way that they went beyond the usual limits of group portraits. Instead of just arranging the people in a normal row or group, Rembrandt tells a story within the picture. In the anatomy lesson seven surgeons appear to be gathered around a dead body while Dr Tulp operates on it. In The Night Watch an army captain is giving an order to a junior officer while a company of soldiers march out of their headquarters. This last picture is another good example of how Rembrandt used light and shadow to add to the excitement in the scene.
Rembrandt also continued to produce drawings and etchings. These reveal his desire to experiment both with technique and every subject imaginable. He used all sorts of subjects, from biblical characters or sensitive studies of animals, to family sketches and realistic landscapes. Etchings such as The Hundred Guilder Print (c. 1647-1649) were sold for high prices and brought Rembrandt even wider recognition.
During the 1640s a change began to take place in Rembrandt’s work. The desire to show drama and excitement was replaced by the attempt to capture the human inner spirit and depths of the soul. This change can be seen in the way he painted portraits of others and himself, such as the sad and disillusioned Self-Portrait he painted in the last year of his life.