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Rembrandt (1606-69)

( Originally Published 1955 )

Dutch painter and engraver of history, landscapes, portraits and and genre. He was not only the greatest Dutch painter, but ranks as one of the greatest artists of all time. During his life and long after his death few Dutch artists resisted his influence, and it may indeed be said to have affected the entire course of European painting. He was born in Leyden of very simple parents, who, however, ambitiously enrolled their son in the Latin school there. Young Rembrandt soon abandoned book learning as such and entered on a painter's apprenticeship with Jacob van Swanenburch. About 1623 he went to Amsterdam, where he spent six months in the studio of Pieter Lastman, and the influence of this artist is strongly reflected in Rembrandt's early works. It was no doubt at this time that he was also influenced by Jan Pynas (see), with whom he is thought to have studied. Returning to Leyden, he set up his own shop and worked there until 1631, when he moved permanently to Amsterdam. His early years in Amsterdam were extremely successful. His works were much sought after and he married a young heiress named Saskia van Uylenborch, who gave him one son, the handsome little Titus, whose growth and development his father recorded in a number of well-known and appealing portraits. Saskia died while still a young woman, and a country girl, Hendrickje Stoffels, came into Rembrandt's service as housekeeper and nurse. The painter never married her because by a provision of Saskia's will he would have had to forfeit a considerable estate in doing so, but Hendrickje remained all her life with the painter, who depended upon her affection and intelligence while he was being buffeted by the severe misfortunes of his later life. His taste for luxurious surroundings and the acquisition of works of art led him into debts that resulted in lawsuits and bankruptcy, but he painted constantly, developing through many markedly different phases his matchless art.

Rembrandt's output was enormous, even without counting those works that bear his signature but were produced in his studio, on his designs, by the various good painters that he trained. His early pictures are clearly drawn and vigorously painted, with a variety in coloring that decreases steadily as his famous light and shadow develops. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, dated 1632 (Mauritshuis), is the most important work of his first years in Amsterdam- A series of religious paintings treating the Passion of Christ also dates from this time. The famous picture in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, long known as "The Night Watch," was painted ten years later and demonstrates his progression toward a more closely fused and darker style. Colors are no longer separate and independent but emerge from darkness in a mysterious golden harmony. The surfaces of his paint change during the 1640's and '50's, as he obtains richness and dramatic effect with alternations of smooth and rough passages. In the superb painting called The Jewish Bride (Rijksmuseum), made at the end of his life, he achieved a magical shimmering with light touches of thick paint marvelously applied. His devotion to nature and his unfailingly accurate observation combine with his command of light to make his landscapes objects of rare beauty. All during the years when he was producing great paintings he was also practicing etching and copper engraving, bringing to bear a technical skill equal to the majesty of his invention.

Throughout his life Rembrandt was preoccupied with character and motivation. In all his portraits as well as his religious pictures this intense probing into the essence of humanity reveals itself. He began as a very young artist to search his own face to record his appearance at various ages and in different states of mind and soul, so that we have from him a long series of remarkable self portraits, ending with one painted in the year of his death.

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