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Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch Painter, Draftsman, Printmaker

Rembrandt van Rijn Photo
Movements and Styles: The Baroque, Dutch Golden Age

Born: July 15, 1607 - Leiden, the Dutch Republic

Died: October 4, 1669 - Amsterdam

"Try to put well into practice what you already know. In so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things you now inquire about."

Rembrandt van Rijn Signature

Summary of Rembrandt van Rijn

An intense psychological study of people, objects, and their surroundings coupled with an earnest Christian devotion fueled Rembrandt's life and work. Incredibly gifted as an artist from a very young age, he became a master of portraits of all types, historical, biblical, and mythological scenes, as well as simple, charming but dramatic landscapes. He used many types of materials and techniques with unusual sensitivity and spontaneity to develop his message. His approaches to composition, color usage, and shadow were everchanging to produce the most powerfully moving but most natural moments of human existence. His supreme mastery of light and texture to emphasize emotional depth weaved a common theme through all of his creations, cementing his status as one of art's greatest, innovative masters. These qualities are evident from his large, ambitious early history paintings to his more intimate and glowing later style. The iconic genius is generally regarded as the most important artist in Dutch art history as his work epitomized the great period of wealth and cultural achievement known as the Dutch Golden Age.

Key Ideas

Rembrandt was renowned for his outstanding ability to not only depict very natural, realistic human figures but even more importantly, to portray deep human feelings, imperfections and morality. He believed that human emotions were more important than any other aspects of life and his subjects' feelings and experiences are what he wanted to convey even when painting them within the context of history, religion, or society.
One of Rembrandt's biggest contributions was his transformation of the etching process from a relatively new reproductive technique into a true art form. His reputation as the greatest etcher in the history of the medium remains to this day. Although few of his paintings left the Dutch Republic during his lifetime, his prints were widely circulated throughout Europe.
Rembrandt's extensive self-portraits are notable in that they inform a unique visual biography of the artist. Whether painting himself in costume or as an ordinary man, he surveyed himself without vanity and with a vulnerable sincerity.
During the Dutch Golden Age, portraiture rose in popularity. With the new trade routes delivering an awareness of exotic cultures and foreign interests, members of the new merchant class enjoyed commissioning imaginative likenesses of their selves to display in their homes, and companies and other professional organizations would also acquire group portraits. Rembrandt was one of the greatest portraitists of this time, known for his impeccable capturing of his subjects' distinct personalities and emotional idiosyncrasies.
Although illustrated scenes from the Bible and large-scale history paintings were falling out of fashion, Rembrandt remained devoted to the genre compelled by a deep religious devotion and empathy for the human condition. He has been called one of the great prophets of civilization due to his humane rendering of these age-old narratives.
Rembrandt would surpass the inventiveness of Titian and Velazquez with his progressive handling of paint, making it as much a subject in the composition of a painting as his figures. Variations of brush stroke between loose and rough, or the manipulation of textures through scratching or with a palette knife, would all contribute greatly to a radically new signature style that would influence generations to come.
Rembrandt van Rijn Photo

Rembrandt van Rijn was the eighth of nine or more children born to Harmen van Rijn, a corn miller, and Cornelia van Zuijtbrouck, a baker's daughter. The prosperous family lived in Leiden near the Rhine River, originally called the Van Rijn River, and dedicated themselves to religion and education. Cornelia often read the Scriptures to her children, which provided a strong sense of God, man, and nature for the young and profoundly Christian Rembrandt. Rembrandt's parents recognized his talents as a young child so they sent him, from age 7 to 14, to the Latin School in Leiden for a classical education. He received the best education that an academic city in Holland could provide for a child with a deep interest in literature and scripture. He was duly prepared for admission to the University of Leiden, a fine institution. He entered the University as Rembrandus Hermanni Leydenis and signed early paintings as RHL, but after a few months he withdrew to dedicate himself to art.

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