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full name Rembrandt Harmensz (or Harmenszoon) van Rijn (or van Ryn). 1606--69, Dutch painter, noted for his handling of shade and light, esp in his portraits
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(full name, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn). Born July 15, 1606, in Leiden; died Oct. 4, 1669, in Amsterdam. Dutch painter, draftsman, and etcher.

Rembrandt’s art is distinguished by an unusual vitality and humanity. The artist combined his keen insight into human emotions with an exceptional painting technique, in which special importance was given to subtle effects of chiaroscuro. His principal genres were portraits and biblical and mythological scenes. Rembrandt’s brush transformed mythological tales into stories having deep psychological expressiveness, revealing human feelings and relationships, and enriched by the artist’s observations of the daily lives of his contemporaries. Rembrandt was a tireless and most original draftsman and an unsurpassed master of etching. He often combined etching with the use of a drypoint tool; he also achieved artistic effects using printing methods.

Rembrandt, the son of a miller, entered the University of Leiden in 1620 but stayed only a short while, leaving to devote himself entirely to art. He studied painting with J. von Swanen-burgh in Leiden (c. 1620–23) and with P. Lastman in Amsterdam (1623). In the period 1625–31, Rembrandt set up as an independent artist in Leiden. His early canvases, such as The Presentation in the Temple (c. 1628–29, Kunsthalle, Hamburg), are somewhat gaudy and trivial in execution, but they already revealed a richness of fantasy and an effort to convey emotion expressively.

In 1632, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam. Important in his life from this point on were his wife of eight years, Saskia van Ulenburgh (1634–42), and his common-law wife, Hendrickje Stoffels, with whom he lived from roughly 1649 to 1663. The period from 1630 through the early 1640’s was the time of the master’s greatest professional and personal triumphs. Rembrandt won fame in 1632 with the group portrait The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulp (Mauritshuis, The Hague). He subsequently received numerous commissions and acquired many students.

Rembrandt’s portraits from this period are marked by a detailed rendering of the facial features, costume, and jewelry (for example, Portrait of Cornells Claezoon Ansio and a Woman, 1641, Picture Gallery, Berlin-Dalem). In his self-portraits and portraits of his relatives and friends, Rembrandt employed broad brushwork and sought dramatic effects (for example, Rembrandt and Saskia, c. 1635, Picture Gallery, Dresden). The artist produced a number of works in which the superficial passion and dynamism of the baroque predominated (for example, The Blinding of Samson, 1636, Staedel Institute, Frankfurt am Main). At the same time, Rembrandt painted works marked by an underlying drama and a democracy of image (for example, The Descent From the Cross, 1634, Hermitage, Leningrad). Some works from this period, such as Danaë (1636, Hermitage), are realistic in execution.

Rembrandt produced his first landscapes during the 1630’s. An example is The Stone Bridge (c. 1638, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). The artist’s first major etchings, including The Return of the Prodigal Son (1636) and Self-portrait Leaning on a Stone Wall (1639), also date from this period. Rembrandt produced his best pencil drawings, employing various techniques, in this early period. However, he most often worked in ink and brush.

The growing conflict between Rembrandt’s art and the bourgeois Dutch society, which had lost its democratic traditions, reached a crisis in 1642, when the painting Night Watch (Rijksmuseum) provoked the protests of those who commissioned the work. Instead of painting a conventional group portrait, Rembrandt had created a dramatic scene depicting a group of militiamen assembling. The portrait was essentially a historical painting that revived memories of the Dutch people’s liberation struggle. This picture marked Rembrandt’s fall from favor. Commissions virtually stopped, and only a few students remained in the master’s studio.

During the 1640’s, Rembrandt’s work achieved a greater composure. It consisted mostly of tranquil biblical scenes that are full of warmth and that suggest human suffering in a very subtle way. Among Rembrandt’s biblical paintings are David and Jonathan (1642, Hermitage), The Holy Family (1645, Hermitage), and Christ and His Disciples at Emmaus (1648, Louvre, Paris). Rembrandt continued to produce portraits (for example, The Man With the Golden Helmet, c. 1650, Picture Gallery, Berlin-Dalem) and landscapes (for example, Winter Landscape With Skaters, 1646, Picture Gallery, Kassel).

Rembrandt’s painting from this period is marked by a bold play of light and shadow and by a warm palette, predominated by red and golden brown hues. His graphic art from the 1640’s is characterized by emotion-packed images and very subtle chiaroscuro. Etchings from this period include Hundred Guilder Print (also known as Christ Healing the Sick, c. 1642–46) and The Three Trees (1643).

In the 1650’s, Rembrandt turned more frequently to scenes with large figures, imparting to the images a monumental quality and a greater sense of form (for example, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, 1656, Picture Gallery, Kassel). It was during this period that the artist produced many of his most important portraits, including Jan Six (1654), Portrait of Titus Reading (c. 1657, Museum of Art History, Vienna), and Self-portrait (1660, Louvre). Rembrandt’s portraits of old people, for example, Portrait of Rembrandt’s Sister-in-law (1654, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow) and Portrait of the Old Man in Red (c. 1652–54, Hermitage), reflect the inner beauty and wisdom of people who have led a long life full of sorrow and privation. Rembrandt’s work as a graphic artist during the 1650’s was similar to his painting (for example, the etchings The Blindness of Tobit, 1651; Faust, c. 1652; The Three Crosses, 1653).

In 1656, Rembrandt was declared bankrupt, and in 1657 and 1658 all his property was sold at auction. The painter moved to the Jewish section of Amsterdam, and it was here that he spent the last years of his life under straitened conditions. During the last decade of his life, Rembrandt attained the apex of his creative powers, achieving a synthesis of all his strivings. In 1661 he was commissioned to paint a large historical canvas for the Amsterdam city council on a theme from Holland’s distant past. The painting, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (fragment preserved, 1661, National Museum, Stockholm), is distinguished by its monumental quality and power of conception. However, it was rejected by those who commissioned it because of its strict realism.

In his late period, Rembrandt produced a number of profound and psychologically complex religious compositions, for example, Assur, Aman, and Esther (1660, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts) and The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1668–69, Hermitage). His portraits from this late period are noted for their simplicity and strength of characterization (for example, Syndics of the Cloth Guild, 1662, Rijksmuseum; Jeremias de Decker, 1666, Hermitage). Rembrandt’s broad, free technique produced an extraordinary spatial depth, and his use of light and shadow became a powerful means of compositional construction and revelation of psychological conflict. The artist’s late drawings, executed mainly with a reed pen, reveal a keen power of observation and depict the most characteristic features of nature.

Only a few of Rembrandt’s students, such as C. Fabritius and A. de Gelder, were able to grasp fully the master’s artistic principles. However, Rembrandt’s innovations in realistic representation made him one of the most influential artists in the history of world art.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


to Rembrandt artist continues to work despite financial failures. [Am. Lit.: “Rembrandt to Rembrandt” in Hart, 703–704]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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