Dutch baroque artist, who ranks as one of the greatest painters in the history of Western art. His full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. He possessed a profound understanding of human nature that was matched by a brilliant technique—not only in painting but in drawing and etching—and his work made an enormous impact on his contemporaries and influenced the style of many later artists. Perhaps no painter has ever equaled Rembrandt's chiaroscuro effects or his bold impasto.
Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631; his marriage in 1634 to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful art dealer, enhanced his career, bringing him in contact with wealthy patrons who eagerly commissioned portraits. An exceptionally fine example from this period is the Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts (1631, Frick Collection, New York City). In addition, Rembrandt's mythological and religious works were much in demand, and he painted numerous dramatic masterpieces such as The Blinding of Samson (1636, Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt). Because of his renown as a teacher, his studio was filled with pupils, some of whom (such as Carel Fabritius) were already trained artists. In the 20th century, scholars have reattributed a number of his paintings to his associates; attributing and identifying Rembrandt's works is an active area of art scholarship.
In contrast to his successful public career, however, Rembrandt's family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635 and 1641 Saskia gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own death came in 1642. Hendrickje Stoffels, engaged as his housekeeper about 1649, eventually became his common-law wife and was the model for many of his pictures.
Despite Rembrandt's financial success as an artist, teacher, and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. An inventory of his collection of art and antiquities, taken before an auction to pay his debts, showed the breadth of Rembrandt's interests: ancient sculpture, Flemish and Italian Renaissance paintings, Far Eastern art, contemporary Dutch works, weapons, and armor. Unfortunately, the results of the auction—including the sale of his house—were disappointing.
These problems in no way affected Rembrandt's work; if anything, his artistry increased. Some of the great paintings from this period are The Jewish Bride (1632), The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Bathsheba (1654, Louvre, Paris), Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1656, Staatliche Gemaldegalerie, Kassel, Germany), and a self-portrait (1658, Frick Collection). His personal life, however, continued to be marred by sorrow, for his beloved Hendrickje died in 1663, and his son, Titus, in 1668. Eleven months later, on October 4, 1669, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam.
A magnificent canvas, 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; this careful rendering of interiors was to be eliminated in his later works. Members of Rembrandt's family who served as his models are sometimes portrayed in other guises, as in Rembrandt's Mother as the Prophetess Anna (1631, Rijksmuseum), or the wistful Saskia as Flora, (1634, the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg).
Perhaps no artist ever painted as many self-portraits (about 60), or subjected himself to such penetrating self-analysis. Not every early portrayal, however, can be interpreted as objective representation, for these pictures frequently served as studies of various emotions, later to be incorporated into his biblical and historical paintings. The self-portraits also may have served to demonstrate his command of chiaroscuro; thus, it is difficult to tell what Rembrandt looked like from such a self-portrait as the one painted about 1628 (Rijksmuseum, on loan from the Daan Cevat Collection, England), in which deep shadows cover most of his face, barely revealing his features. On the other hand, in none of these youthful self-portraits did he attempt to disguise his homely features.
Biblical subjects account for about one-third of Rembrandt's entire production. This was somewhat unusual in Protestant Holland of the 17th century, for church patronage was nonexistent and religious art was not regarded as important. In Rembrandt's early biblical works, drama was emphasized, in keeping with baroque taste.
Among Rembrandt's first major public commissions in Amsterdam was the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632, Mauritshuis, The Hague). This work depicts the regents of the Guild of Surgeons gathered for a dissection and lecture. Such group portraits were a genre unique to Holland and meant substantial income for an artist in a country where neither church nor royalty acted as patrons of art. Rembrandt's painting surpasses commemorative portraits made by other Dutch artists with its interesting pyramidal arrangement of the figures, lending naturalism to the scene.
His group portraiture continued to develop in richness and complexity. The so-called Night Watch—more accurately titled The Shooting Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq (1642, Rijksmuseum)—portrays the bustling activity of a military company, gathered behind its leaders, preparing for a parade or shooting contest. In departing from the customary static mode of painting rows of figures for the corporate portrait, Rembrandt achieved a powerful dramatic effect. Despite the popular myth that the painting was rejected by those who commissioned it, and led to a decline in Rembrandt's reputation and fortune, it was actually well received.
Many of Rembrandt's landscapes in this middle period are romantic and based on his imagination rather than recording specific places. The inclusion of ancient ruins and rolling hills, not a part of the flat Dutch countryside, as in River Valley with Ruins (Staatliche Gemaldegalerie, Kassel), suggests a classical influence derived from Italy.
"Rembrandt," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001
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