Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) was a Dutch artist active in the 17th century, a period known as the Dutch Golden Age. He is renowned as the master of light and shadow; and his paintings are of exceptional realism due to his trademark light and shadow effects. Through his prolific career, Rembrandt worked in a number of genres but he is most famous for portraits and for depictions of biblical and mythological scenes. As a portrait artist, he is renowned for capturing the moods of his subjects. Group portraiture flourished in the Netherlands at the time and Rembrandt has created some of the most famous group portraits. He is also considered one of the greatest self-portrait artist, known for not showing any mercy to himself. Rembrandt van Rijn was the leading artist of the Dutch Golden Age and he is regarded as one of the greatest artists in history. Know about his art through his 10 most famous paintings.
#10 Portrait of Jan Six
Jan Six was a wealthy merchant and an important cultural figure in the Dutch Golden Age. He was also a close friend and patron of Rembrandt van Rijn. This portrait captures the moment as Six pauses while putting on his gloves just before leaving his house. Rembrandt uses powerful strokes to brilliantly display the hands, the gloves and the red cloak. But it is the face, on which he worked and reworked, that is responsible for the fame of the portrait as he has been able to capture a marvelous expression of momentary abstraction. The portrait was painted by Rembrandt during his Third Amsterdam Period (1643–58) and along with Bathsheba at Her Bath, it is his most renowned work of that period. Rembrandt is regarded as one of the greatest portrait artist and Portrait of Jan Six is regarded as one of the finest portraits he ever painted.
#9 Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild
Dutch Title: De Staalmeesters
This painting is a group portrait of the officials of the Drapers’ Guild, who were controllers of cloth-samples. They were appointed by the Mayor of Amsterdam to regulate the quality of cloth sold in the city. They held their meetings at the Hall of the Drapers Guild, where the painting was displayed after completion. It now resides in Rijksmuseum, Dutch national museum in Amsterdam. Also known as The Sampling Officials, the painting depicts the five-man Board of the Drapers’ Guild along with an attendant, who is shown without a hat. Rembrandt gives great attention to each subject by capturing different expressions on their faces thus giving them different personalities. At the same time, he also brings a strong sense of togetherness by using compositional devices. Rembrandt is regarded as perhaps the greatest master in group-portraiture and The Sampling Officials is among his most famous works in the genre. Painted in his later years, it has been called as the “last great collective portrait”.
#8 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Dutch Title: Christus in de storm op het meer van Galilea
The Miracles of Jesus are the supernatural deeds attributed to him in the Gospels. In one such deed, Jesus saves his disciples by calming a storm while they are crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Rembrandt’s painting depicts this miracle. It was created during the First Amsterdam Period (1631 –1635) of Rembrandt when he was in his late twenties. He created a number of Biblical scenes during this period and this painting is one of them. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is renowned for being Rembrandt’s only seascape and because it can no longer be seen, as it has been stolen! In March 1990, thieves disguised as police officers stole this painting and 12 other artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, US. Considered the biggest art theft in US history, it remains unsolved.
#7 Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar
Dutch Title: Zelfportret met Baret en opstaande kraag
Considered by many as the best self-portrait ever created, Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar is a work in which may be seen “the stresses and strains of a life compounded of creative triumphs and personal and financial reverses”. Rembrandt’s self-portraits are known for him not showing any mercy to himself and this painting, which was painted when he was 50 years old, showcases his ruthless and sincere depiction of himself. Rembrandt’s pose is inspired by Raphael’s famous portrait of Balthasar Castiglione. It shows him seated in a broadly painted fur cloak with his hands clasped in his lap. The most luminous area showcases his face. The artist is wearing a large beret or cap, and his collar is turned up; hence the name. Rembrandt is regarded as one of the greatest artists in the genre of self-portraiture and this painting is his most famous self-portrait.
Danaë was a princess in Greek mythology whose father Acrisius shut her up in a bronze chamber as it was prophesied that her son would kill him. However, Zeus, king of the Gods, desired her. He came to her chamber in the form of golden rain and impregnated her. Rembrandt’s painting, regarded among his most magnificent, depicts the character lying naked in her bed and welcoming Zeus. Instead of paying attention to idealizing her physical appearance, Rembrandt captures the passion felt by a woman on seeing her lover. His wife Saskia was the original model for Danaë but 10 years later he changed the figure’s face to that of his mistress Geertje Dircx. Catherine the Great of Russia purchased the painting in 1772 for the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, where it still resides. In 1985, Danaë was attacked by an insane man named Bronius Maigys, who threw acid on the canvas and cut it twice with his knife. The painting was restored by 1997.
#5 The Jewish Bride
Dutch Title: Het Joodse bruidje
Year: c. 1667
The title by which this painting is known comes from an art collector in Amsterdam, who interpreted it as a Jewish father and his daughter. The necklace in the painting was interpreted by him as a present the father had given to the daughter for her wedding day. However, later art critics dismissed this suggestion and the two figures portrayed are now believed to be lovers or a married couple. There continues to be speculation about the identity of the couple with the most likely interpretation considered that it depicts the Biblical character Isaac and his wife Rebecca. The Jewish Bride was created by Rembrandt in his late years known as the Fourth Amsterdam Period (1658–69). Along with The Return of the Prodigal Son, this painting is his most famous work of the period, when he had mastered his art. Rembrandt’s biographer Christopher White calls the composition “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting”.
#4 Bathsheba at Her Bath
In the Old Testament, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a soldier in the army of King David. David saw Bathsheba bathing and was mesmerized. He seduced and impregnated her. To conceal his sin and marry her, David send her husband to battle and ordered his generals to abandon him, leading to his death. Rembrandt depicts Bathsheba with an elderly maidservant washing her feet. She has a letter from the king summoning her, due to which the painting is also known as Bathsheba with King David’s Letter. Though Bathsheba has been depicted by other artists, Rembrandt’s life size portrayal is exceptional for its erotic vitality brought about by vibrant colors and thick brushstrokes. The painting is also noted for brilliantly capturing Bathsheba’s moral dilemma as she stares at nothing while contemplating on David’s proposal. Bathsheba at Her Bath is Rembrandt’s most renowned nude and it is regarded as one of the greatest achievements in the genre.
#3 The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
Dutch Title: De anatomische les van Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
The event depicted in this painting occurred in January 1632. Anatomy lessons were a social event in 17th century and were often captured on canvas. Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, who can be see in the portrait explaining the musculature of the arm to medical professionals, was the official City Anatomist of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. Some of the spectators are various doctors who paid commissions to be included in the painting. The corpse is that of Aris Kindt, a criminal who was convicted for armed robbery and sentenced to death by hanging. Group portraiture flourished in Netherlands in the 17th century. Rembrandt had arrived in Amsterdam not long ago and this was his first major commission in the city. He broke conventions of the genre in this work by creating a dramatic visual scene and placing the corpse in the center of the portrait. The Anatomy Lesson is one of Rembrandt’s most well-known paintings and has been often copied and plagiarized.
#2 The Return of the Prodigal Son
Dutch Title: Terugkeer van de Verloren Zoon
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a father has two sons; the younger of whom asks for his inheritance, wastes his fortune and returns home after becoming destitute. He intends to beg his father to make him one of his servants but the father, instead, celebrates his return. When his elder son objects, the father tells him that they are celebrating because his brother, who had been lost, has now come to his senses. Rembrandt’s painting depicts the moment when the son returns home in a wretched state. The father can be seen receiving his son with a tender gesture while the brother crosses his hands in judgment. Painted at the end of his career, the artwork demonstrates Rembrandt’s mastery as he uses expressive lighting and coloring to brilliantly evoke in the viewer the parable’s message of forgiveness. The Return of the Prodigal Son is regarded by many critics as Rembrandt’s greatest masterpiece and a monumental achievement in Baroque art.
#1 The Night Watch
Dutch Title: De Nachtwacht
The Night Watch was commissioned to Rembrandt by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq and 17 members of his company of civil guards. Apt title of the painting would be The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch. However, due to the dark impression it makes on the viewer, it became known as The Night Watch. Comprising of 34 characters, the colossal masterpiece depicts the company, led by Cocq and Ruytenburch, moving towards the viewer. Its fame rests on several factors including its enormous size (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft); its coherent, dynamic and realistic portrayal; brilliant use of light and shadow by the artist; and Rembrandt’s mastery in making it appear to the viewer that the painting’s nearly human size figures are about to jump off the canvas and into real space. The Night Watch is the most renowned work in group portraiture and it is the most famous painting of not only Rembrandt but of the entire Dutch Golden Age.