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About Rembrandt

Rembrandt (1606-1669), Dutch baroque artist, one of the greatest painters in Western art. His full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. He was born in Leiden. At the age of 14 he attended the University of Leiden, but he left to study art—first locally and then in Amsterdam. Rembrandt later returned to Leiden, where he became so highly regarded that he took his first pupils when he was only 22 years old. He returned to Amsterdam in 1631. His marriage in 1634 to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful art dealer, brought him in contact with wealthy patrons who eagerly commissioned portraits. His mythological and religious works were also much in demand.

Rembrandt's earliest paintings, from the 1620s, have dramatic subjects, crowded compositional arrangements, and emphatic contrasts of light and shadow. Portrait of a Man and His Wife (1633, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston) shows his early portrait style—his preoccupation with the sitters' features and with details of clothing and room furnishings. Rembrandt also painted about 60 self-portraits, and many of them were studies of various The Anatomic Class of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp [A495]emotions that were later incorporated into his biblical and historical paintings. The self-portraits also may have served to demonstrate his command of chiaroscuro (contrasts of light and shadow). Rembrandt's first major public commissions in Amsterdam included the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632, Mauritshuis, The Hague), depicting the regents of the Guild of Surgeons gathered for a dissection and lecture. Such group portraits brought him substantial income.The Nightwatch [A107]

Many of Rembrandt's paintings of the 1640s show the influence of classicism in style and spirit. His group portraiture continued to develop in richness and complexity. In the Night Watch, also called The Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Rembrandt achieved a powerful dramatic effect by portraying a military company in action, rather than in the customary static rows. Many of his landscapes in this middle period are romantic and based on his imagination rather than a record of specific places.

Return of the Prodigal Son [A740]Rembrandt created his greatest paintings during his last two decades. Baroque drama, outward splendor, and superficial details no longer mattered to him. His self-portraits, portrayals of single figures and groups, and historical and religious works are concerned with mood and with spiritual qualities. His palette grew richly coloristic, his brushwork became increasingly bold, and he built thick impastos that seem to float over the canvas. In a biblical work, Return of the Prodigal Son (1669?, the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg), Rembrandt concentrated on inherent psychological drama rather than on the excitement of the narrative that had dominated earlier works.

In addition to his painting, Rembrandt created about 1400 drawings, recording a wide range of outward and inner visions. His early drawings (of the 1630s) were frequently executed in black or red chalk; later he used pen and ink on white paper, often in combination with brushwork. He made masterful drawings throughout the early as well as mature phases of his career. One early drawing, Portrait of a Man in an Armchair, Seen Through a Frame (1634, private collection, New York City), is done in chalk and is considered Rembrandt's most finished portrait drawing.