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Rembrandt... The Legacy Of An Artist

Earlier 20th-century connoisseurs claimed Rembrandt had produced well over 600 paintings, nearly 400 etchings, and 2,000 drawings. More recent scholarship, from the 1960s to the present day, often controversially, has winnowed his oeuvre to nearly 300 paintings.

Rembrandt's portraits and self-portraits

In Rembrandt's portraits and self-portraits, Rembrandt angles the sitter's face in such a way that the ridge of the nose nearly always forms the line of demarcation between brightly illuminated and shadowy areas.

Rembrandt's oil paintings trace the progress from an uncertain young man, through the dapper and very successful portrait painter of the 1630s, to the troubled but massively powerful portraits of his old age.

Rembrandt's portraits represent the face partially eclipsed; and the nose, bright and obvious, thrusting into the riddle of halftones, serves to focus the viewer's attention upon, and to dramatize, the division between a flood of light—an overwhelming clarity—and a brooding duskiness.

Rembrandt's Self-portrait
Rembrandt's Self-portrait

Rembrandt's represented his immediate family in his paintings. Rembrandt's wife Saskia, his son Titus, and his common-law wife Hendrickje often figured prominently in his paintings, many of which had mythical, biblical, or historical themes.

Rembrandt painted numerous portrait commissions both small (Jacob de Gheyn III) and large (Portrait of the Shipbuilder Jan Rijcksen and his Wife, 1633, Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632).

Rembrandt's Biblical and mythological scenes

During Rembrandt's early years in Amsterdam (1632–1636), Rembrandt began to paint dramatic biblical and mythological scenes in high contrast and of large format (The Blinding of Samson, 1636, Belshazzar's Feast, c. 1635 Danaë, 1636 but reworked later).

In a number of biblical works, including The Raising of the Cross, Joseph Telling His Dreams, and The Stoning of Saint Stephen, Rembrandt painted himself as a character in the crowd. Maybe because the Bible was for Rembrandt "a kind of diary, an account of moments in his own life".

Rembrandt's Biblical scenes were derived more often from the New Testament than the Old Testament.

Among the more prominent characteristics of Rembrandt's work is his use of chiaroscuro, the theatrical employment of light and shadow derived from Caravaggio, or, more likely, from the Dutch Caravaggisti but adapted for very personal means.

Rembrandt's etchings

In 1626 Rembrandt produced his first etchings, the wide dissemination of which would largely account for his international fame.

Rembrandt's prints, traditionally all called etchings, although many are produced in whole or part by engraving and sometimes drypoint, have a much more stable total of slightly under 300. It is likely Rembrandt made many more drawings in his lifetime than 2,000 but those extant are more rare than presumed.

In 1629 he completed Judas Repentant, Returning the Pieces of Silver, and The Artist in His Studio works that evidence his interest in the handling of light and a variety of paint applications, and constitute the first major progress in his development as a painter.

By the late 1630s, Rembrandt had produced a few paintings and many etchings of landscapes. Often these landscapes highlighted natural drama, featuring uprooted trees and ominous skies (Cottages before a Stormy Sky, c. 1641; The Three Trees, 1643).

In 1642 Rembrandt painted The Night Watch, the most substantial of the important group portrait commissions that he received in this period.

In the decade following the Night Watch, Rembrandt's paintings varied greatly in size, subject, and style. The previous tendency to create dramatic effects primarily by strong contrasts of light and shadow gave way to the use of frontal lighting and larger and more saturated areas of color.

In the 1650s, Rembrandt's style changed again. Colors became richer and brush strokes more pronounced. With these changes, Rembrandt distanced himself from earlier work and current fashion, which increasingly inclined toward fine, detailed works. Rembrandt's use of light becomes more jagged and harsh, and shine becomes almost nonexistent.

In later years, biblical themes were often depicted but the emphasis shifted from dramatic group scenes to intimate portrait-like figures (James the Apostle, 1661).

In his last years, Rembrandt painted his most deeply reflective self-portraits (from 1652 to 1669 he painted fifteen), and several moving images of both men and women (The Jewish Bride, c. 1666)—in love, in life, and before God.

The Night Watch, oil on canvas portrait now housed in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Night Watch, oil on canvas portrait now housed in Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Night Watch By Rembrandt

Between 1640 and 1642, Rembrandt painted The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, which became his most famous work. The piece was commissioned for the new hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, the musketeer branch of the civic militia.

Parts of the canvas were cut off (approximately 20% from the left-hand side was removed) to make the painting fit its new position when it was moved to Amsterdam town hall in 1715.

In 1817 this large painting was moved to the Trippenhuis. Since 1885 the painting is on display at the Rijksmuseum.

In 1940 the painting was moved to Kasteel Radboud; in 1941 to a bunker near Heemskerk; in 1942 to St Pietersberg; in June 1945 it was shipped back to Amsterdam.

Rembrandt's Masterpiece was called De Nachtwacht by the Dutch and The Night Watch by Sir Joshua Reynolds because by 1781 the picture was so dimmed and defaced that it was almost indistinguishable, and it looked quite like a night scene.

After it was cleaned, it was discovered to represent Broad Day—a party of 18 musketeers stepping from a gloomy courtyard into the blinding sunlight.

It is believed that the master Rembrandt has a cameo role in this artwork, even though it is not easy to spot him, however, you can see a beret and half an eye, and this is believed to be the artist.

Rembrandt depicted the militia readying themselves to embark on a mission, though the exact nature of the mission or event is a matter of ongoing debate.

Rembrandt's Legacy

Two experts claim that the number of drawings whose autograph status can be regarded as effectively "certain" is no higher than about 75.

At one time, approximately 90 paintings were counted as Rembrandt self-portraits but it is now known that he had his students copy his own self-portraits as part of their training.

Modern scholarship has reduced the autograph count to over forty paintings, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings, which include many of the most remarkable images of the group. Some show him posing in quasi-historical fancy dress, or pulling faces at himself.

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