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Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
1606 - 1669
 



Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn was the paramount artist of the great age of Dutch painting. In range, originality, and expressive power his large production of paintings, drawings, and etchings has never been surpassed.
 

 

In the attempt to grasp the full measure of the achievement of Rembrandt, the mistake has sometimes been made of interpreting his works as an autobiography. This they are not. His experiences are reflected in his works not directly, but transfigured into art. The events of art are different in nature from the events of life, and we understand very little about the relations between these two different realms of being. The few mundane facts we know about Rembrandt's life do not begin to explain his works or account for his extraordinary capacities.

Rembrandt was born in Leiden on July 15, 1606, next to the last of the nine or more children of the miller Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn and the baker's daughter Neeltgen Willemsd van Zuytbroeck. For 7 years Rembrandt was a student at the Latin school, and then, in 1620, he enrolled at the university. After only a few months, however, he left to become a painter. He was an apprentice for 3 years of the painter Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh, who had studied in Italy.

In 1624 Rembrandt went to Amsterdam to work with Pieter Lastman, a painter of biblical, mythological, and historical scenes. In the 16th and 17th centuries art theory ranked "history painting" as superior to all other fields, and Lastman was one of the most respected specialists in this kind of subject matter in Holland at the time. Anecdotal painting like Lastman's came to be overshadowed in Rembrandt's time by other themes, such as landscape and still life. In fact, Rembrandt and his school were virtually the only painters of importance who continued to concern themselves with narrative subject matter, mainly based on biblical stories, through the second and third quarters of the century. Unlike Lastman, though, Rembrandt and his followers depicted a great variety of other subjects as well. Yet years later, even after Lastman's death in 1633, Rembrandt continued to borrow his teacher's subjects and motifs, for instance, in Susanna Surprised by the Elders. Rembrandt made a drawing in red chalk after Lastman's 1614 painting of the subject, and in 1647 he freely adapted this composition in a painting.


Works of the Leiden Years

It was Lastman's ability to tell a story visually that impressed his youthful pupil. The earliest works by Rembrandt that we know, beginning with the Stoning of St. Stephen (1625), show an only partially successful imitation of Lastman's style, applied to scenes in which a number of figures are involved in a dramatic action.

By 1625 Rembrandt was working independently in Leiden. He was closely associated at this time with Jan Lievens, also a student of Lastman's. The two young men worked so similarly that even in their own lifetime there was doubt as to which of them was responsible for a particular painting. They used the same models and even worked on each other's pictures. Rembrandt's paintings were small in size and scale in these years, however, while Lievens preferred a larger format with life-size figures.

In addition to his narrative subjects, Rembrandt was practicing with pen, brush, and etcher's needle the depiction of emotions conveyed by facial expressions. Throughout his career he was his own most frequent model. Other sitters have been identified as members of his family, but this is conjectural, except in the case of a drawing inscribed with his father's name in a contemporary hand. Rembrandt liked to have his models wear such embellishments as gold chains and plumed hats, testing his skill at depicting varied textures.

By 1631 Rembrandt was ready to compete with the accomplished portrait painters of Amsterdam. His portrait of the Amsterdam merchant Nicolaes Ruts (1631) is a dynamic likeness executed with a degree of assurance that makes it clear why its author was in demand as a portraitist. A major commission soon came to him: Dr. Nicolaas Tulp Demonstrating the Anatomy of the Arm (1632). For this large canvas Rembrandt devised a new unified composition for the traditional "anatomy lesson."


Early Amsterdam Years

In 1631 or 1632 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where he had already achieved some recognition as a portraitist. Both his career and his personal life prospered. On a charming silverpoint drawing of a pensive young woman holding a flower, he wrote, "This was drawn after my wife when she was 21 years old, the third day after our engagement - June 8, 1633." After an engagement of more than a year, he married this well-to-do young woman, Saskia van Uijlenburgh. In 1639 the young couple set themselves up in a fine house in the Breestraat, now maintained as a museum, the Rembrandthuis.

Like many prosperous men of his time, Rembrandt soon began to collect works of art, armor, costumes, and curiosities from far places. He used some of these objects as props in his paintings and etchings. The vast collection of drawings and prints that he amassed in the course of time made him familiar with works by artists distant in time and place, as well as by contemporaries. It was, in a way, a substitute for travel; he was quoted as saying, at the age of 23, that he could learn about Italian art without leaving Holland. He had the opportunity to see some Italian paintings in the flourishing mercantile city of Amsterdam, but he would have had to rely mainly on prints to bring Italian art to him. His works reflect his responsiveness to art of the most diverse types, from monumental painting of the High Renaissance to Mogul miniatures.

Rembrandt's works of the middle 1630s were his most baroque; indeed he seemed to be deliberately challenging the enormous prestige of Peter Paul Rubens. This is most explicit in the scenes from the Passion of Christ (1633-1639) that Rembrandt painted for the stadholder Frederick Henry. The etching Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1634) shows how the same drama and excitement, the combination of fine detail with a grandiose new sweep based largely on unification of the composition through light and shadow, and the choice of the crucial moment - all characteristic of Rembrandt's baroque style - permeated his graphic works as well as his paintings in this period. The mysterious landscape that adds so strikingly to the emotional communication of this great etching had its parallels in the landscape paintings that also occupied Rembrandt about this time, such as the Landscape with an Obelisk.


Middle Period

The Visitation (1640) serves well to sum up Rembrandt's style at this transitional point in his development. The rather fussy large-leaved plants and birds in the left foreground are still reminiscent of Lastman. The architecture is pure fantasy; Rembrandt usually represented, in both exterior and interior views, structures that were never seen in reality and, indeed, in many cases could not be built because they were not based on a rational ground plan. The landscape, too, has nothing to do with the innovative Dutch realistic landscape of the 17th century. Its function is to suggest the long distance that Mary has traveled to visit her cousin. Instead of a baroque thrust into depth, the figures are deployed parallel to the picture plane, and prominent horizontal and vertical elements stabilize the composition in the "classicizing" manner that was to predominate in the works of Rembrandt, as in Dutch painting in general, in the middle of the century. Most significant is the fact that the picture dwells on the meaning of the story in a human sense. It demonstrates Rembrandt's unique ability to communicate the inmost emotions of the participants in the scene. The arbitrary use of light is a major expressive resource; this was the hallmark of his genius throughout his career.

One of Rembrandt's largest and most famous paintings is the group portrait known since the mid-18th century as the Night Watch. This is, in fact, not a night scene at all, and it is correctly titled the Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq. For this important commission, completed in 1642 but probably begun in the late 1630s, the artist devised an original, dynamic composition in the baroque style which he had already begun to abandon by this time. The painting was unfortunately cut down in the 18th century. Attempts have been made to relate this scene to an actual historical event, to a contemporary drama, and to emblematic ideas. These different interpretations reflect the persistent impression that this is something more than a group portrait.

There is no foundation at all for the legend that Captain Cocq and his company were dissatisfied with their painting and that this failure initiated a decline in Rembrandt's fortunes that persisted until the end of his life. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence that the picture was highly praised from the start. Such difficulties as Rembrandt had were not caused by any rejection of his work.

Having had three children who died in infancy, Saskia gave birth to a fourth child, Titus, in September 1641. In June 1642 Saskia died. Acrimony entered Rembrandt's household with the widow Geertge Dircx, who came to take care of Titus. Hendrickje Stoffels, who is first mentioned in connection with Rembrandt in 1649, remained with him until her death in 1663. She left a daughter, Cornelia, who had been born to them in 1654.

About 1640 Rembrandt developed a new interest in landscape which persisted through the next 2 decades. A series of drawings and etchings show keen observation of nature, great originality in composing, and marvellous economy. The etched View of Amsterdam (ca. 1640) was the forerunner of the splendid panoramic landscape paintings of Jacob van Ruisdael. The tiny painting Winter Landscape (1646) has all the earmarks of having been painted from life, on the spot. This would be a rare case in 17th-century Dutch landscape, which customarily was painted in the studio from sketches.

In contrast with Rembrandt's dramatic religious compositions of the earlier period, those of the 1640s tend to be quiet, with exquisitely controlled light casting an almost palpable spiritual glow on scenes that might otherwise seem to depict humble everyday life. The painting Holy Family (1646) exemplifies this tender and compassionate quality, as does the Hundred Guilder Print, one of the most renowned of the master's etchings, on which he probably worked from about 1645 to 1648. Bustlength paintings of Christ, such as the one in Detroit, from the later 1640s, have a similar emotional tone. Richness of paint surface and warm, harmonious colour add lustre to the paintings of this period.


Later Years

The ruinous effect on commerce of the first Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654) may have played a part in Rembrandt's financial difficulties, of which there is evidence from 1653 on. In 1656 he filed a petition of insolvency. In connection with this, an inventory was made listing all his possessions. This list of 363 items is an invaluable source of information as to the objects, and particularly the works of art, that Rembrandt had collected. It included numerous portfolios of drawings and prints. All these prized possessions were sold at auction, beginning in December 1657. In 1660 Rembrandt, Titus, and Hendrickje moved to a smaller house.

The idea that the formerly renowned artist was now friendless and neglected is a fiction. In fact the record shows that several prominent men who were his friends stood by Rembrandt through these misfortunes. Though it is true that fashionable taste in art began to favor a more highly finished and elegant type of painting at this time, nevertheless Rembrandt continued to receive commissions and to work productively.

In 1652 a Sicilian nobleman who was a discerning collector commissioned a painting from Rembrandt. If the painting was satisfactory, two more were to be ordered. Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer was completed in 1653 and shipped off to Sicily, and the two additional pictures were sent in 1661. The meaning of the Aristotle is not yet fully understood, but its quality is unquestionable. The lavish impasto, the scintillating white and gold contrasted with velvety blacks, and the quality of inwardness and self-communion are characteristic features of Rembrandt's style at this time.

Even commissioned portraits, such as the one Rembrandt painted of his old friend, the Amsterdam patrician Jan Six (1654), were built up of the bold patches of paint that invite the eye of the beholder to see the solid form beneath the surface. Another important commission for a group portrait came to Rembrandt in 1656: the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Joan Deyman, of which only a fragment has survived. A pen drawing, however, shows the symmetrical composition, with the surgeon standing in the center behind the cadaver, which is seen in sharp foreshortening, perpendicular to the picture plane. Other figures are grouped symmetrically on either side. The difference between this composition and the diagonal in depth that unified the Dr. Tulp (1632) is a measure of the change not only in Rembrandt but in the dominant style in Dutch painting between the 1630s and the 1650s.

Rembrandt's regal Self-portrait (1658; Frick Collection, New York) shows the aging artist seated squarely before us, meeting our eyes with forthright gaze, and wearing a fantastic costume whose sharp horizontals and verticals stress the composition based on right angles that epitomizes this period. A number of admirable etched portraits also date from this time, as well as etchings of religious subjects, such as the impressive Ecce homo (1655), which reflects an engraving made in 1510 by the great Dutch graphic artist Lucas van Leyden.

It is noteworthy that even in his full maturity Rembrandt adapted features from many sources. It may be that making the inventory and facing the loss of his collection caused him to give special attention to the prints and drawings in his portfolios. In 1658, for instance, he painted the small and sensitive Jupiter and Mercury Visiting Philemon and Baucis, which was based on a painting by Adam Elsheimer, whose work had greatly impressed Rembrandt's teacher, Lastman, when he was studying in Rome. Rembrandt could have known the Elsheimer painting through an engraving made after it by Goudt in 1612.

In 1660-1661 Rembrandt painted an enormous canvas commissioned for the splendid new town hall in Amsterdam. It was the Conspiracy of the Batavians, or the Oath of Julius Civilis, known to us through the remaining fragment and a pen-and-wash drawing of the entire composition. The 17th-century Dutch, who in 1648, after 80 years of war, had succeeded in finalizing their freedom from Spanish rule, considered themselves the descendants of the Batavians, who had rebelled against the Romans. The scene of the oath was painted broadly, to be viewed from a distance, and in the most luminous colors. For reasons not entirely understood, the painting was removed after hanging in the town hall for a time. Perhaps it was unacceptable because the style was too far from the traditional treatment of patriotic subjects for public places.

In any case, Rembrandt was even at this time held in high regard. In 1662 he painted the Sampling Officials of the Drapers' Guild, a group portrait whose vitality and psychological penetration certainly justified these dignified officials in their choice of a portraitist. The boldness of his brushstroke, the effulgence of his color, glowing like embers in a dark room, and the command of emotional content increased as he grew older. The beautiful pair of late portraits, Man with a Magnifying Glass and Lady with a Pink, have few peers in all the realm of art.

Hendrickje died in 1663. In February 1668 Titus married Magdalena van Loo; he died in September. The lonely Rembrandt continued to paint. His last Self-portrait (Mauritshuis, The Hague) is dated 1669. When he died, on Oct. 4, 1669, a painting, Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple, was left unfinished on his easel.


Rembrandt the Teacher

Throughout his career Rembrandt was much sought after as a teacher, and the fees his pupils paid yielded considerable income. Even as early as the Leiden years students came to him; Gerard Dou was working in his studio by 1628, and it has been conjectured that it is Dou who is represented in Rembrandt's typical small painting of that year, the Painter at His Easel. Later pupils included Jacob Adriaansz Backer, Ferdinand Bol, Govaert Flinck, Phillips Koninck, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Carel Fabritius, Abraham Furnerius, Lambert Doomer, Willem Drost, Abraham van Dyck, Heyman Dullaert, and Aert de Gelder.

It was common studio practice for the master to retouch or overpaint the drawings and paintings of his pupils and to sign works done in his studio even if they were not from his own hand. Rembrandt's students worked from life, but they also copied his works. These customs have added to the difficulties in attribution. Deliberate falsification has of course also contributed to the problems in determining the authenticity of Rembrandt's works.
 


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Dutch painter, etcher, and draftsman, b. Leiden. Rembrandt is acknowledged as the greatest master of the Dutch school.


Early Life

A miller's son, Rembrandt attended a Latin school and spent part of one year at the Univ. of Leiden, leaving in 1621 to study painting with a local artist, Jacob van Swanenburgh. His most valuable training was received during the six months of 1624 that he spent in the studio of Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. Lastman's work affected Rembrandt's in his sense of composition and his frequent choice of religious and historical themes. Receptive to many influences at this time, Rembrandt sometimes reflected the dramatic chiaroscuro of Caravaggio in paintings such as The Money Changer (Berlin) or the more delicate and detailed manner of Elsheimer as in The Tribute Money (London).


The Leiden Years

In 1625 Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where he developed his own distinct style, using the many possibilities of the oil medium, heavily layering the paint, and experimenting with diverse techniques. He showed an unusual preference for the faces of the old and the poor from his earliest works to his latest (e.g., Two Philosophers, Melbourne). In the Leiden years he began the magnificent series of nearly 100 self-portraits that describe the continuing development of his profound self-understanding and self-awareness, as well as his stylistic growth. While in Leiden he collaborated with Jan Lievens and began to teach. He devoted much of his life to teaching, and one of his foremost pupils in Leiden was Gerard Dou.


Amsterdam: Success, Bankruptcy, and a Developing Style

Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1632, where he became established as a portrait painter with his group portrait Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632; The Hague), a traditional subject to which he gave radical treatment. His commissioned portraits include those of Minister Johannes Elison and his wife (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and Nicolas Ruts (Frick Coll., New York City). His position in Amsterdam was further solidified by the dowry and social connections gained by his joyous marriage to Saskia van Ulyenburgh, a burgomaster's daughter.

Affluent and successful, he began to collect numerous works of art, costumes, and curiosities, always learning from the art and often using the costumes in his portraits. During this period his style acquired a new richness of color and greater plasticity of form. He incorporated the vigor, opulence, and drama of the baroque movement, best seen in The Sacrifice of Abraham (St. Petersburg) and The Blinding of Samson (1636, Frankfurt). His studio was filled with pupils, including Jacob Backer, Govaert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, and later the gifted Carel Fabritius and Nicholas Maes.

Serious financial difficulties began for Rembrandt with his purchase of an impressive house in 1639. Saskia died in 1642 after the birth of their only surviving child, Titus, who was later to become Rembrandt's favorite portrait subject. During the same year he completed his most famous group portrait, The Shooting Company of Capt. Frans Banning Cocq (Rijks Mus.) This work is traditionally called The Night Watch, although a cleaning in 1946–47 revealed a daylight setting. In this work and others instead of painting a conventional group portrait, Rembrandt made of it a crowd spectacle, sacrificing individual identities to dramatic, high-contrast lighting.

During the 1640s Rembrandt developed an enduring interest in landscape. He made numerous etchings, including Three Trees and Christ Healing the Sick, executed with exceptional spontaneity and vigor, and created many works solely for his own pleasure, an unusual practice for his time. This, together with his art collecting, eventually caused financial ruin.


Later Years, Late Masterworks

In 1660 his housekeeper and devoted love for many years, Hendrickje Stoffels, and Titus formed a business partnership to shield the bankrupt Rembrandt from his creditors. In the last two decades of his life Rembrandt, withdrawn from society and no longer fashionable, created many of his masterpieces. These works were more concerned with human character than with outward appearance and are the foundation of his unequaled reputation. Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653; Metropolitan Mus.) reveals his power to elicit a mood of profound mystery and meditation. Among the other remarkable paintings of this period is Bathsheba (Louvre); two of the notable etchings are Three Crosses (1653) and Christ Presented to the People (1655).

The powerful night scene The Conspiracy of the Batavians (1661; Stockholm) is the remaining fragment of his most monumental historical work. To the 1660s belong The Family Group (Brunswick), The Jewish Bride (Rijks Mus.), and The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1662; Rijks Mus.), all of which are loosely structured, flamelike in color, and psychologically penetrating. Personal tragedy struck the master with the death of Hendrickje in 1663 and of Titus in 1668. Rembrandt lived for one more year, survived by Cornelia, his and Hendrickje's only child.


Achievement

The universal appeal of Rembrandt's art rests upon its profound humanity. His surpassing handling of light was recognized even when his critics considered that his subject matter was vulgar and indecorous. The prodigious output of his lifetime is known to embrace more than 600 paintings, about 300 etchings, and nearly 2,000 drawings. To each medium he gave his best effort.


Museum Collections

Rembrandt's work can be found in many European and American museums. The best collections are in Amsterdam, Berlin, The Hague, St. Petersburg, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The Louvre, the British Museum, and the Rijks Museum have good collections of his etchings and drawings. In 1968 a group of eminent Dutch scholars under the sponsorship of the Netherlands Organization for the Advancement of Scientific Research formed a committee to reassess the authenticity of works attributed to Rembrandt and compile a complete critical catalog of his paintings. Known as the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), it has used a variety of sophisticated analytical techniques and has substantially reduced the number of paintings definitely considered to have been painted by the artist. By the end of the 20th cent. the RRP had produced three volumes of an anticipated five-volume work entitled A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings.
 


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Dutch artist. Known for his portraits, history paintings, and graphic works that display an affecting empathy for his subjects, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn was born on 15 July 1606 in the university town of Leiden. The ninth child of a baker's daughter and the well-to-do owner of a malt mill, "De Rijn," the young Rembrandt must have attended the local Latin school because on 20 May 1620, at the age of 14, he enrolled at Leiden University, where he remained for only a short time. Rembrandt may have started his artistic studies with a Leiden painter unknown to us today. Between 1619 and 1622 he began a three-year apprenticeship with Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh (1571–1638) whose painted scenes of hell left no trace in the work of his famous pupil. In 1623 or 1624 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam to study with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), the city's leading history painter. After about six months Rembrandt left Lastman's studio and, rather than travel and study in Italy (as had van Swanenburgh, Lastman, and many of his fellow artists), he returned to Leiden as a master and probably moved into the studio of another Lastman pupil, Jan Lievens (1607–1674). Here Rembrandt began examining his face and emotional expression in painted and etched self-portraits and produced a series of small-scale history paintings in whose choice of subject matter and composition one can see both the influence of Lastman and an artistic dialogue with Lievens.


Rembrandt's Emerging Style

Rembrandt's earliest known dated painting, The Stoning of St. Stephen (1625; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon), recalls the horizontal format and dramatic gestures of Lastman's work. It also shows evidence of his own emerging artistic qualities, including a greater focus on the central subject and a variety of emotional responses to an event. In his early twenties Rembrandt came to the attention of Constantijn Huygens, the influential secretary to Frederik Hendrik, prince of Orange. Huygens praised the dramatic emotional tenor of his Repentant Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver (1629; private collection, England). Over the course of the following decade he received through Huygens a number of commissions from Prince Frederick Hendrick, including a portrait of the prince's wife and a series of Christ's Passion.


Early Years in Amsterdam

By about 1631 Rembrandt had begun receiving portrait commissions from prominent Amsterdam citizens, and in 1632 he moved to the thriving metropolis. As exemplified in the single-figured Nicholas Ruts (1631; Frick Collection, New York) and the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632; Mauritshuis, The Hague), these works transformed the portrait tradition by displaying figures caught in actions that imply an inner life of thought and feeling. Rembrandt's history paintings from this period similarly show motion and psychological drama, from his lyrical Danaë welcoming Jupiter as a shower of golden light (c. 1636 and early 1640s; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg) to the high theatricality of The Blinding of Samson (1636; Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt) that depicts the gruesome moment a dagger is plunged into Samson's eye.

During his first years in Amsterdam, Rembrandt, lodged with the art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh, who may have brokered some of the artist's early portrait commissions. In 1634 Rembrandt both joined the Amsterdam Guild of St. Luke and married Uylenburgh's niece Saskia, the daughter of a wealthy burgomaster of Leeuwarden. From early in his career, Rembrandt self-consciously fabricated an artistic persona. Throughout his life he produced an unprecedented number of drawn, etched, and painted self-portraits (of which about 80 survive), and even occasionally inserted his own face into his history paintings. Beginning in 1633, in contrast to most of his contemporaries, he signed his works with his given name, emulating such Italian predecessors as Raphael, Titian, and Leonardo. By 1639 Rembrandt could afford to purchase an expensive house, complete with studio.

Rembrandt's Self-Portrait of 1640 (London, National Gallery) depicts a self-confident artist at the height of his powers. Its pose and composition recall two Italian Renaissance portraits known to Rembrandt: Titian's so-called Portrait of a Man, at the time believed to represent the poet Ariosto (c. 1512; National Gallery, London), and Raphael's portrait of the courtier and author Baldassare Castiglione (c. 1514–1515; Musée du Louvre, Paris). In doing so, Rembrandt created a "paragone," a classic rivalry, between himself and his Renaissance forebears, two painters and two poets. In his most famous work, The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, better known today as The Night Watch (1642; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Captain Banning Cocq strides beside his smartly dressed lieutenant and, gesturing with a sweep of his left hand, gives the order for his men to march out behind him. With its implied narrative, lively movement, and varied psychological response to the occasion, the conceit was unprecedented in Dutch group portraiture.


Setbacks and Later Successes

Also in 1642, Rembrandt's beloved wife Saskia died. He took into his bed his son's nurse, Geertge Dircks, and subsequently Hendrickje Stoffels, who, pregnant, in 1654 was called before the Reformed Church council for "having committed whoredom" with the artist. About this time Rembrandt began to suffer economic setbacks, in part due to his own poor financial decisions and to the general economic slowdown that accompanied the Anglo-Dutch war of 1652–1654. On 14 July 1656, facing bankruptcy, the artist applied for a cessio bonorum, surrendering the control of his large house, its contents, and his possessions to the Chamber of Insolvent Estates. These stresses may be responsible, in part, for the intensely meditative turn of his works. His Bathsheba with King David's Letter (1654; Musée du Louvre, Paris) depicts the young woman in deep reflection, while his great Portrait of Jan Six shows the regent lost in thought as he pulls on a glove (1654; Foudation Six, Amsterdam).

Throughout his life, Rembrandt experimented with print media, from early studies of his face dating from the late 1620s through charming etchings of family life, landscapes, genre images, and biblical scenes—many displaying a beguiling intimacy, freshness, and spontaneity. He tried various effects of ink, pulled impressions on different kinds of paper, and avidly reworked his conceptions: Rembrandt developed his masterful drypoint Ecce Homo (also called Christ Presented to the People, 1655) through eight different states. The title later given to an image depicting several episodes from chapter 19 of the Gospel of Matthew, The Hundred Guilder Print (c. 1642–1649), attests to the value collectors attached to the master's prints.

His magnificent Self-Portrait of 1658 (Frick Collection, New York) presents the master as confident of his artistic powers. Gold light bathes a garment set off by a red sash. A fur-trimmed cloak drapes his shoulders, and he holds his painter's mahlstick as if it were a king's scepter. However, not all of the commissions he received during the last decade of his life were trouble-free. His Oath of the Batavians to Claudius Civilis, commissioned for the Amsterdam Town Hall, was removed after only a few months (c. 1661–1662; Nationalmuseum, Stockholm). The taste of many Dutch patrons and art theorists had turned toward classicistic painting, while Rembrandt's work moved in another direction and featured freely worked surfaces, glowing colors, and profoundly contemplative subjects. Nonetheless, the fact that writers occasionally singled out the master for derision confirms the hold he and his work had on the century's imagination. Rembrandt continued to receive important commissions, including the Syndics of the Drapers' Guild of 1662 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), while his late history paintings, such as The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1666–1668; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg) are among the most personal and moving images produced in his time.


 

 

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