c. 1629 Oil on canvas, 
37,7 x 28,9 cm 
Mauritshuis, The Hague

1640 National Gallery, 

1658 Frick

1656-58 Oil on wood, 
48,5 x 40,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

1660 Oil on canvas, 111 x 90 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

1669 Oil on canvas, 86 x 70.5 cm 
National Gallery, London

Rembrandt's self-portraits are an excellent record of his life.  Compare the portraits on the left to the events in Rembrandt's life as you read this short biography.

Quoted from the Web Museum,

Rembrandt HARMENSZOON VAN RIJN (b. July 15, 1606, Leiden, Neth.--d. Oct. 4, 1669, Amsterdam), Dutch painter, draftsman, and etcher of the 17th century, a giant in the history of art. His paintings are characterized by luxuriant brushwork, rich colour, and a mastery of chiaroscuro. Numerous portraits and self-portraits exhibit a profound penetration of character. His drawings constitute a vivid record of contemporary Amsterdam life. The greatest artist of the Dutch school, he was a master of light and shadow whose paintings, drawings, and etchings made him a giant in the history of art.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606, in Leiden, the Netherlands. His father was a miller who wanted the boy to follow a learned profession, but Rembrandt left the University of Leiden to study painting. His early work was devoted to showing the lines, light and shade, and color of the people he saw about him. He was influenced by the work of Caravaggio and was fascinated by the work of many other Italian artists. When Rembrandt became established as a painter, he began to teach and continued teaching art throughout his life.

In 1631, when Rembrandt's work had become well known and his studio in Leiden was flourishing, he moved to Amsterdam. He became the leading portrait painter in Holland and received many commissions for portraits as well as for paintings of religious subjects. He lived the life of a wealthy, respected citizen and met the beautiful Saskia van Uylenburgh, whom he married in 1634. She was the model for many of his paintings and drawings. Rembrandt's works from this period are characterized by strong lighting effects. In addition to portraits, Rembrandt attained fame for his landscapes, while as an etcher he ranks among the foremost of all time. When he had no other model, he painted or sketched his own image. It is estimated that he painted between 50 and 60 self-portraits.

In 1636 Rembrandt began to depict quieter, more contemplative scenes with a new warmth in color. During the next few years three of his four children died in infancy, and in 1642 his wife died. In the 1630s and 1640s he made many landscape drawings and etchings. His landscape paintings are imaginative, rich portrayals of the land around him. Rembrandt was at his most inventive in the work popularly known as The Night Watch, painted in 1642. It depicts a group of city guardsmen awaiting the command to fall in line. Each man is painted with the care that Rembrandt gave to single portraits, yet the composition is such that the separate figures are second in interest to the effect of the whole. The canvas is brilliant with color, movement, and light. In the foreground are two men, one in bright yellow, the other in black. The shadow of one color tones down the lightness of the other. In the center of the painting is a little girl dressed in yellow.

Rembrandt had become accustomed to living comfortably. From the time he could afford to, he bought many paintings by other artists. By the mid-1650s he was living so far beyond his means that his house and his goods had to be auctioned to pay some of his debts. He had fewer commissions in the 1640s and 1650s, but his financial circumstances were not unbearable. For today's student of art, Rembrandt remains, as the Dutch painter Jozef Israels said, "the true type of artist, free, untrammeled by traditions."

The number of works attributed to Rembrandt varies. He produced approximately 600 paintings, 300 etchings, and 1,400 drawings. Some of his works are: St. Paul in Prison (1627); Supper at Emmaus (1630); The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632); Young Girl at an Open Half-Door (1645); The Mill (1650); Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653); The Return of the Prodigal Son (after 1660); The Syndics of the Drapers' Guild (1662); and many portraits.

  • Self-Portraits
  • before 1639
  • 1640-49
  • 1650-59
  • 1660-69 
  • Luke
    Chapter 15
    1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,
    2 but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
    3 So to them he addressed this parable.
    4 "What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?
    5 And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
    6 and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'
    7 I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
    8 "Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?
    9 And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.'
    10 In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
    11 Then he said, "A man had two sons,
    12 and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them.
    13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
    14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
    15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
    16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
    17 Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.
    18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
    19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."'
    20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
    21 His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.'
    22 But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
    23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,
    24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began.
    25 Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.
    26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
    27 The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
    28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
    29 He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
    30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.'
    31 He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
    32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
    Self-Portrait with Saskia as the Prodigal Son c1636 to 1637, 
    Gemaldegalerie, Alte Meister, Dresden.
    Form:  This portrait incorporates a low key or earth toned palette combined with a very close point of view.  Rembrandt demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as  chiaroscuro .  He also uses an intense spotlight on the faces and clothing creating hard edges where the contours of the figures meet the dark background while the shadowed sides of the figures seem to merge with the background.  Although the brushstrokes are more visible in this painting, the paint is fairly thin and there is not very much texture.

    Even though the figures in this painting is placed in the visual center of the picture plane the light which rakes in from the upper left hand corner creates a strong diagonal across the picture plane.  The use of a diagonal in the composition of the picture plane is a very Baroque device.

    This unique double portrait of Rembrandt and Saskia (c. 1635-36) seems to offer an ironic and reflective gaze at his life. Here, too, an etching echoes the subject of the painting, but in the 1636 etched double portrait Rembrandt shows himself at work, drawing as he looks up at the viewer. In the Dresden painting Saskia sits on the lap of a foppishly dressed Rembrandt, who gaily holds up a flagon of ale as he twists to offer a silly grin out of the picture. This tavern setting at once indulges a current "Arcadian" fashion for showing fashionable ladies as courtesans (yet another incarnation of the goddess Flora, with whom Rembrandt had already identified Saskia) as well as draws upon the pictorial tradition of the Prodigal Son with the tavern harlots. It is worth noting that the lavish dress of this couple offers an echo of the finery in the Kassel profile of Saskia, but here the suggestion of loose living and of future repentance from the Prodigal Son analogy also sounds a note of self-criticism. 
    Rembrandt's interpretation of Biblical stories is highly personal and seems to both reflect his humanity and in some ways is also a reflection of his morals and is also fairly biographical.

    Return of the Prodigal Son 1665. 
    Oil on canvas, approximately 8' 8" x 6' 9". 
    Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
    Form:  As Rembrandt matures his work changed significantly in terms of some of its formal qualities.  Rembrandt's palette becomes even more subdued and the bushstrokes become more visible.  The paint also becomes thicker and is laid in thick impastos.

    Iconography:  The formal qualities of roughening up the brushwork and laying the paint in impastos seems to be an unintentional symbol of how "rough" Rembrandt's life was as he aged.

    Rembrandt's final word is given in his monumental painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. Here he interprets the Christian idea of mercy with an extraordinary solemnity, as though this were his spiritual testament to the world. It goes beyond the works of all other Baroque artists in the evocation of religious mood and human sympathy. The aged artist's power of realism is not diminished, but increased by psychological insight and spiritual awareness. Expressive lighting and colouring and the magic suggestiveness of his technique, together with a selective simplicity of setting, help us to feel the full impact of the event.

     The main group of the father and the Prodigal Son stands out in light against an enormous dark surface. Particularly vivid are the ragged garment of the son, and the old man's sleeves, which are ochre tinged with golden olive; the ochre colour combined with an intense scarlet red in the father's cloak forms an unforgettable colouristic harmony. The observer is roused to a feeling of some extraordinary event. The son, ruined and repellent, with his bald head and the appearance of an outcast, returns to his father's house after long wanderings and many vicissitudes. He has wasted his heritage in foreign lands and has sunk to the condition of a swineherd. His old father, dressed in rich garments, as are the assistant figures, has hurried to meet him before the door and receives the long-lost son with the utmost fatherly love.

     The occurrence is devoid of any momentary violent emotion, but is raised to a solemn calm that lends to the figures some of the qualities of statues and gives the emotions of a lasting character, no longer subject to the changes of time. Unforgettable is the image of the repentant sinner leaning against his father's breast and the old father bending over his son. The father's features tell of a goodness sublime and august; so do his outstretched hands, not free from the stiffness of old age. The whole represents a symbol of all homecoming, of the darkness of human existence illuminated by tenderness, of weary and sinful mankind taking refuge in the shelter of God's mercy. 

    Rembrandt Supper at Emmaus, c 1648,  oil on canvas, 
    approx. 27" x 26", Louvre, Paris

    Supper at Emmaus or Christ at Emmaus  1628 
    14" x 16 1/8"
    Museum Jacquem

    It is to the biblical pictures that we must turn to see Rembrandt's greatest contribution during his mature period. The deepening of the religious content of these works is connected with some shift in his choice of biblical subjects. During the 1630s Rembrandt had used the Bible as a source for dramatic motifs; for example, the Blinding of Samson. In his middle phase he turned to more calm and intimate subjects, particularly episodes from the life of the Holy Family. At the beginning of the mature period the figure of Christ becomes pre-eminent. Scenes taken from the life of Jesus, quiet episodes of his youth, his preaching and the deeds of his early manhood, and his resurrection form the main subject of the biblical representations.

     The emergence of the mature style is marked by works like Christ at Emmaus, in which Rembrandt expresses the character of Jesus without any concrete action or noisy stage-like effect. A moment before, he appeared to be merely a man about to break bread with two pilgrims. Now he is the resurrected Christ whose tender presence fills the room. Without any commotion, Rembrandt convinces us that we are witnessing the moment when the eyes of the pilgrims are no longer 'held, that they should not recognize him'. A great calm and a magic atmosphere prevail, and we are drawn into the sacred mood of the scene by the most sensitive suggestion of the emotion of the figures, as well as by the mystery of light which envelops them. The monumental architectonic setting lends grandeur and structure to the composition, and the powerful emptiness of the architectural background is enlivened by the fluctuating, transparent chiaroscuro and the tender spiritual character of the light around Christ himself. A simple pathos and a mild, warm feeling emanate from his figure. Nothing could be farther from the conspicuous theatricality of the works of the thirties. 

    Chapter 24
    1But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
    2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
    3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
    4While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
    5They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
    6He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
    7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day."
    8And they remembered his words.
    9Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others.
    10 The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
    11 but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.
    12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb, bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone; then he went home amazed at what had happened.
    13 Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
    14 and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
    15 And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
    16 but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
    17 He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?" They stopped, looking downcast.
    18 One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?"
    19 And he replied to them, "What sort of things?" They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
    20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.
    21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
    22 Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning
    23 and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.
    24 Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see."
    25 And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
    26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
    27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.
    28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
    29 But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them.
    30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.
    31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
    32 Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"
    33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them
    34 who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
    35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
    36 While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."
    37 But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
    38 Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?
    39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have."
    40 And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
    41 While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?"
    42 They gave him a piece of baked fish;
    43 he took it and ate it in front of them.
    44 He said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled."
    45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
    46 And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day
    47 and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
    48 You are witnesses of these things.
    49 And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."
    50 Then he led them (out) as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them.
    51 As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.
    52 They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy,
    53 and they were continually in the temple praising God.


    Rembrandt van Rijn Susanna and the Elders 1647 
    Mahogany 29 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. (76.6 x 92.7 cm) 
    Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

    Tintoretto, The Bathing Susanna, 1560


    Make sure you read Mencher, Liaisons 197-214 Susanna and the Elders

    Now that you've read the apocryphal story of Susanna and you know a bit about Rembrandt and Gentileschi take a look at these two images and think about how each one of these artists takes the story of Susanna and personalizes it in some way.

    Looking at each one of these images, ask yourself who you would trust the most with your daughter?  What kinds of things are different?  Why did these artists choose to depict the story the way they did?

    Gentileschi, Susanna and the Elders c1640

    Correggio (Antonio Allegri)
    Ganymede 1531-32
    Oil on canvas, 163,5 x 70,5 cm
    Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
    Italian Renaissance, Mannerism

    Rembrandt, Rape of Ganymede 1635
    Oil on canvas, 171 x 130 cm
    Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
    You have already visited this theme in the Mannerist period   now that you know a bit about Rembrandt and Correggio take a look at these two images and think about how each one of these artists takes the story of Ganymede and personalizes it in some way.

    What kinds of things are different?  Why did these artists choose to depict the story the way they did?

    apoc.ry.pha n pl but sing or pl in constr [ML, fr. LL, neut. pl. of apocryphus secret, not canonical, fr. Gk apokryphos obscure, fr. apokryptein to hide away, fr. apo- + kryptein to hide--more at crypt] (14c) 1: writings or statements of dubious authenticity 2 cap a: books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament b: early Christian writings not included in the New Testament

    apoc.ry.phal adj (1590) 1: of doubtful authenticity: spurious 2 often cap: of or resembling the Apocrypha syn see fictitious -- apoc.ry.phal.ly adv -- apoc.ry.phal.ness n

    ar.ca.di.an adj, often cap (1589) 1: idyllically pastoral; esp: idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled 2 a: of or relating to Arcadia or the Arcadians b: of or relating to Arcadian Ar.ca.di.an n (1590) 1 often not cap: a person who lives a simple quiet life 2: a native or inhabitant of Arcadia 3: the dialect of ancient Greek used in Arcadia

    According to the Brittanica,

    Modern Greek ARKADHÍA, mountainous region of the central Peloponnesus of ancient Greece. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. The region is not exactly coextensive with the present-day nomós (department) of Arkadhía, which extends on the east to the Gulf of Argolis. The capital of the nomos is Trípolis.


    chiar.oscu.ro n, pl -ros [It, fr. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] (1686) 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2 a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character) 3: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also: a print made by this technique 4: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface 5: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow

    According to the Brittanica, 

    Chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"),
    technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.

    Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481; Uffizi, Florence). Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depends for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.

     "chiaroscuro."  and  Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 19, 2002. 

    genre n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender--more at gender] (1770) 1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content 2: kind, sort 3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically

    im.pas.to n, pl -tos [It, fr. impastare] (1784) 1: the thick application of a pigment to a canvas or panel in painting; also: the body of pigment so applied 2: raised decoration on ceramic ware usu. of slip or enamel -- im.pas.toed adj

    neo.clas.sic or neo.clas.si.cal adj (1877): of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical esp. in literature, music, art, or architecture -- neo.clas.si.cism n -- neo.clas.si.cist n or adj

    rib.ald n [ME, fr. MF ribaut, ribauld wanton, rascal, fr. riber to be wanton, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG riban to be wanton, lit., to rub] (13c): a ribald person ²ribald adj (1508) 1: crude, offensive <~ language> 2: characterized by or using coarse indecent humor syn see coarse

    ten.e.brism n, often cap [L tenebrae darkness] (1954): a style of painting esp. associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a concentrated beam of light usu. from an identifiable source -- ten.e.brist n or adj, often cap

    according to the Brittanica,
    "in the history of Western painting, the use of extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative compositions to heighten their dramatic effect. (The term is derived from the Latin tenebrae, "darkness.") In tenebrist paintings the figures are often portrayed against a background of intense darkness, but the figures themselves are illuminated by a bright, searching light that sets off their three-dimensional forms by a harsh but exquisitely controlled chiaroscuro . The technique was introduced by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571?-1610) and was taken up in the early 17th century by painters influenced by him, including the French painter Georges de La Tour, the Dutch painters Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen, and the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán."