Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn


Lets talk about one of the most famous painters of all time.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is often considered one of the best, most important painters in European history.

Rembrandt’s family was of average wealth, able to pay for Rembrandt’s education. Rembrandt though, like most of us, found education to be a tired affair. At the age of 14 he ditched school to do what we all wish we could ditch school for – painting. I once scived a day off school to draw comics with my buddy Alan. Unfortunately, I’m no Rembrandt and I didn’t turn out to be world famous after this little act of defiance. My mother didn’t know this until now – but I’m too old to be grounded now, so :p

In 1624 Rembrandt left for Amsterdam to study with Pieter Lastman (1583 – 1633). Lastman is another Dutch painter considered to be mostly awesome. He was famed for his historical paintings.

Lastman had another pupil called Jan Lievens. When Rembrandt moved back to his home town Leiden, he and Jan opened a workshop together and started work as independent artists.

Due to the Protestant Reformation, (a movement which looked to reform beliefs and practises in the Roman Catholic Church. Obviously this wasn’t the only goal of the reform as politicians used it as a way to deepen their authority.) the church stopped commissioning artists, so Rembrandt had to take private commissions. Most of his work at the time was on historical paintings. And thus fame begins.

The Abduction of Europa – 1632

Unlike many artists at the time, Rembrandt didn’t move to Italy to study art, instead he moved to Amsterdam. Here he moved in with a guy called Hendrick van Uylenburgh who became a good friend of Rembrandt. It was also pretty handy that van Uylenburgh turned out to be an art dealer, and he really helped launch Rembrandt’s career.

It was here that Rembrandt met the beautiful Saskia (does anyone else think Saskia is a sexy name?) Anyway, Saskia was the cousin of his landlord. Now I would have thought that was a recipe for disaster, and I personally wouldn’t touch anyone belonging to my landlord. Imagine the tension come rent day and I’m an out-of-work performance artist who spends his free time writing children’s books and blog posts… It seemed to work out for Saskia and Rembrandt though, who were happily married in 1634.

Portrait of Saskia with a Flower – 1641

And this is where it all starts getting a bit depressing, as often happens when reading life stories of famous people. Two years after they were married they had a baby, but it died after only weeks. They continued to try for children, and two more died. It wasn’t until 1961 until they had one that managed to fight its way into the world – and for his efforts he was appropriately named Titus.

The Artist’s Son Titus – 1657

During these years of emotional hardship before the birth of Titus, Rembrandt’s art went form strength to strength. All the biggest and most important families and organisations commissioned him and he become very rich. Only problem was he tended to piss away his fortune collecting artworks, as well as buying props, antiques and other tidbits for his paintings.

So, 1641 and all seems well, he is rich, famous, the year before he and his wife moved into a big house next to van Uylenburgh and they now had a son. But unfortunately all was not well. After Titus was born Saskia got ill and died in 1642.

Saskia Asleep In Bed

After a time, Rembrandt took a servant called Hendrickje Stoffels, with whom he fell in love. This caused a number of complications. One, was that he had already taken a common law wife who he’d promised to marry proper. She took him for court, but in hind sight probably wouldn’t do it again. Rembrandt had her sent to a house of correction. Secondly, the terms of Saskia’s will meant that if Rembrandt took on another wife he wouldn’t have access to her fortune. So, he couldn’t afford to marry Hendrickje.

After this, in 1650 there was a economic depression in Amsterdam and Rembrandt was in deep trouble. Six years later he managed to gain a ‘respectable form of bankruptcy which avoided imprisonment’. He lost all his cool stuff and had to move to a smaller, poorer area.

Depressingly Hendrickje died in 1663 from a long term illness, and just to rub salt in the wound Rembrandt had to sell Sasika’s tomb to make ends meet. In 1668 Titus left to marry a childhood buddy and then promptly died. Six months after his death his daughter was born who sweetly, was called Titia. A year later Rembrandt died himself and was buried with his son and his second love.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee

When it comes to technical art skills I think it’d be fair to describe Rembrandt as a genius. He learned from his teachers all there was to know about oil painting and then quickly began to experiment in new ways how to use it. He surpassed both his teachers very quickly and never stopped coming up with new innovations.

The area in which Rembrandt excelled was in his use of lighting effects. By experimenting with multiple layers of paint and varying levels of opacity he was able to discover new ways of creating realistic and deep works.

The Archangel leaving the Family of Tobias – 1637

There have been quite a few scientific analysis of his work in recent years that show some of the technical things Rembrandt did to guide the eye of the spectator and to give his paintings more detail and ‘life’. Apparently it has been proved that his art is composed in such a way that the eye is drawn to specific points and then encouraged to linger there, this way viewing his work has a calming effect on people. All this was achieved with complex paint mixtures using eggs, ground glass, chalk and other bits ‘n’ bobs. With experimental techniques such as scratching details in with sharp edges. And with a whole lot of other things I struggle to understand.

As you can probably see from some of the pictures above, Rembrandt pained a lot of portraits and a huge amount of self portraits. He left behind over 90 self portraits from different periods in his life, and I think it becomes possible (with a bit of imagination) to look beyond the pictures at the man. I always think he looks like he was a sad man.

Check out this site to find a complete collection of his works. I’m really interested in 2 things, one being his self-portraits and the other being a specific painting: The Girl at a Window. So I think I’ll do another post about Old Van Rijn based specifically on those 2 things next week.

Self portrait with Saskia


One response »

  1. Pingback: Self-Portraits & « Sketches, Scratches and Scattered Thoughts

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