The Artist Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, better known as Rembrandt, was born on July 15, 1606, in Leiden, Netherlands. He became a printer and painter in a period in which the Dutch Masters had moved beyond the Renaissance to the Dutch Baroque movement.

Portraits were an important component of Rembrandt’s career. In Saskia van Uylenburg, painted around 1635, Rembrandt captures a fair girl with long, reddish brown curls and a black drape. There is only the hint of a smile on her face. In his life, Rembrandt also completed several of his own self-portraits, including a 1630 etching of himself wearing a cap with eyes spread wide open and a 1661 portrait of himself as an aging man with grayish white curls.

The period in which Rembrandt painted included particular attention to special events from history and from contemporary life. In Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee (1634), he depicts a violent sea in a traditional Bible scene. In The Abduction of Europa (1632), he vividly portrays a Phoenician woman being abducted from a forested beach. Although a two-dimensional landscape or scene is static (like a still-life), Rembrandt manages to convey motion and action.

In The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen (1638), the artist shows a dark, cloudy sky contrasted with a brightly sunlit city in the left background. Jesus and Mary are joined in the painting by two angels. This composition is his artistic vision of the Bible scene, but he brings something unique to the story by envisioning how these characters might have interacted.

In Night Watch (1642), the artist captures a portrait of the armed militia in Amsterdam, but the faces of the guards are lit up as if it is not really depicting night. This painting also shows several qualities hallmarking his style. First, Rembrandt has a keen grasp of depth. On the canvas, there are several rows of people between the foreground and the background. Another aspect of his talent for realism is in the details. The observer can observe up close or far away the intricate details of human faces, clothing, tools, animals, drapery, and inanimate objects. The whole piece demonstrates a purposeful composition and a sense of balance between the figures.

Rembrandt also painted during a time when the Netherlands was breaking from the European tradition of painting on commission. Wilkins et al note that the Netherlands included a free market for artists to sell their own self-selected projects.

The Rembrandt style was copied by many artists that came later, and some works attributed to him have also since been credited to a different artist. Rembrandt is remembered as a forerunner of the art movement called Romanticism. He died on October 4, 1669.