1902 Encyclopedia > Rembrandt

Rembrandt
Dutch painter
(1606-69)




REMBRANDT (1607-1669). REMBRANDT HARMENS VAN RIJN, the chief of the Dutch school of painting and one of the greatest painters the world has seen, was born in Leyden on the 15th July 1607._ It is only within the past thirty yeas that we have come to know anything of the real history of the man. Up to that time we ha but a tissue of fables connected with his name and representing him as ignorant, boorish, and avaricious. These fictions, resting on the loose assertions of Houbraken (De Groote Schouburgh, 1718), have been cleared away by the untiring researches of Scheltema and other Dutchmen, notably by C. Vosmaer, whose elaborate work (Rembrandt, sa Vie et ses Ceuvres, 1868, 2d ed. 1877) will remain as the basis of our knowledge of the man and of the chronological development of the artist._ Rembrandt’s high position in European art rests on the originality of his mind, the power of his imagination, his profound sympathy with his subjects, the boldness of his system of light and shade, the thoroughness of his modelling, his subtle colour, and above all on the intense humanity of the man. He was great in conception and in execution, a poet as well as a printer, an idealist and also a realist ; and this rare union is the secret of his power. From his dramatic action and mastery of expression Rembrandt has been well called "the Shakespare of Holland." To understand aright his position in art, we must consider rapidly his surroundings and note the influences which affected him ; we shall thus find what he had in common with his time and understand better how far he was really a new power, an original genius.

It must be borne in mind that in the beginning of the 17th century Holland had risen to great power. Though not yet formally free from the Spanish yoke, she had broken the fetters by the heroic efforts of the former generation, and had entered on her grand career of national enterprise. Science and literature flourished in her universities, poetry and the stage were favoured by her citizens, and art found a home not only in the capital but in the provincial towns. It was a time also of new ideas. Old conventional forms in religion, philosophy, and art had fallen away, and liberty was inspiring new conceptions. It is with those of art that we have to deal. Here there were no church influences at work to fetter the painter in the choice and treatment of his subject, no academies to prescribe rules. Left to himself, therefore, the artist painted the life of the people among when he lived and the subject which interested them. It was thus a living history that he painted,—scenes from the everyday life and amusements of the people often mean and vulgar it must be confessed, the civic rulers, the regents of the hospitals and the heads of the guilds, and the civic guards who defended their towns. So also with the religious pictures which were produced under the influence under the influence of these environments. The dogmas and legends of the Church of Rome were no longer of interest to such a nation ; but the Bible was read and studied with avidity, and from its page the artist drew directly the scenes of the simple narrative. The Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha were the sources from which, without any interference of Jesuit inquisitors, he drew his inspiration. This change had been coming on steadily since the Reformation, a change that implied a growing freedom from trammels and a larger and more human view of the subjects treated. Perhaps the earliest trace of this new aspect of Bible story is to be found in the pictures painted in Rome about the beginning of the 17th century by Adam Elsheimer of Frankfort, who had undoubtedly a great influence on the Dutch painters studying in Italy. These in their turn carried back to Holland the simplicity and the picturesque effect which they found in Elsheimer’s work. Among these, the precursors of Rembrandt, may be mentioned Moeyaert, Ravesteyn, Lastman, Pinas, Honthorst, and Bramer. Influenced doubtless by these painters, Rembrandt determined to work out his own ides of art on Dutch soil, resisting apparently every inducement to visit Italy. Though an admirer of the great Italian master, he yet maintained his own individuality in the most marked manner. It is strange that we have no evidence that he ever met his greatest Dutch rival, the brillant Frans Hals, his senior by some fifteen years.

Rembrandt was born it the house No. 3 Weddesteg, on the rampart at Leyden overlooking the Rhine. The house belonged to his father Gerrit Harmen van Rijn, a well-to-do miller, and still exists, but the windmill is no more. He was the fourth son, and, as the older boys had been sent to trade, his parent resolved that he should enter a learned profession. With this view he was sent to the High School at Leyden ; but the boy soon manifested his dislike of the prospect and determined to be a painter. Accordingly he was placed for three years under Swanenburch, a connexion of the Van Rijn family. This master was a painter of no great merit, but he enjoyed some reputation from his having studies in Italy. His next master was Lastman of Amsterdam, a painter of very considerable power. In Lastman’s works we can trace the germs of the colour and sentiments of his greater pupil, though his direct influence cannot have been great, as it is said by Orlers that Rembrandt remained with him only six months, after which time he returned to Leyden, about 1623. During the early years of his life at Leyden Rembrandt seems to have devoted himself entirely to studies, painting and etching the people around him, the beggars and cripples, every pictureque face and form he could get hold of. Life, character, and above all light were the aims of these studies. His mother was a frequent model, and we can trace in her features the strong likeness to her son, especially in the portraits, of himself at an advanced age. So far as we know there is no likeness of his father, who died about 1632. The last portrait of his mother is that of the Belvidere Gallery of Vienna, painted the year before her death in 1640. One of his sisters also frequently sat to him, and Bode suggests that side must have accompanied him to Amsterdam and kept house for him till he married. This conjecture rests on the number of portraits of the same young woman painted in the early years of his stay in Amsterdam and before he met his bride. Then, again, in the many portraits of himself painted in his early life we can see with what zeal he set himself to master every form of expression, now grave now gay, at one time with a smile at another with a frown,—how thoroughly he learned to model the human face not from the outside but from the inner man. Careful in detail and thorough in work, these studies were the foundation of his later triumphs. Dr Bode gives fifty as the number of the portraits of himself, most of them painted in youth and in old age, the times when he had leisure for such work.





Rembrandt’s earliest pictures were painted in the last four years of his stay at Leyden, from 1627 to 1631. Bode mentions about nine pictures as known to belong to these years, chiefly paintings of single figures, as St Paul in Prison and St Jerome ; but now and then compositions of several, as Samson in Prison and Presentations in the Temple. The prevailing tone of all these pictures is a greenish-grey, the effect being somewhat cold and heavy. The gallery at Cassel gives us a typical example of his studies of the heads of old men, firm and hard in workmanship and full of detail, the effects of light and shade being carefully thought out. His work now attracting the attention of the lovers of art in the great city of Amsterdam ; and, urged by their calls, he removed about 1631 to live and die there. His life has few incidents and these only a personal, for he lived among the simple burgher citizens, moving in an excellent circle of men of science, divines, poets, artists, and friends of art. At one bound he leaped into the position of the first portrait painter of the city, and received numerous commissions. During the early years of his residence there are at least forty known portraits from his hand, firm and solid in manner and staid in expression. It has been remarked that the fantasy in which he indulged through life was reserved only for the portraits of himself and his immediate connexions. The excellent painter Thomas De Keyser was then in the height of his power, and his influence is to be traced in some of Rembrandt’s smaller portraits. Pupils also now flocked to his house in the Bloegracht, among them Gerard Douw, who was nearly of his own age. The first important work executed by Rembrandt in Amsterdam in Simeon in the Temple, of the Hague Museum, a fine early example of his treatment of light and shade and of his subtle colour. The concentrated light falls on the principal figure, his favourite way of arresting attention, while the background is full of mystery. The surface is smooth and enamelled, and all the details are carefully wrought out, while the action of light on the mantle of Simeon shows how soon he had felt the magical effect of the play of colour. Between the small Simeon of 1631 of the play of colour. Between the small Simeon of 1631 and the life-sized Lesson in Anatomy of 1632 there is a great difference. In the latter we have first of the great portrait subjects,—Tulp the anatomist, the early friend of Rembrandt, discoursing to his seven associates, who are ranged with eager heads round the foreshortened body. The subject was not new, for it had been in former years by the Mierevelds, A. Pietersen, and others, for the Hall of the Surgeons. But it was reserved for Rembrandt to make it a great picture by the grouping of the expressive portraits and by the completeness of the conception. The colour is quiet and the handling of the brush timid and precise, while the light and shade are somewhat harsh and abrupt. But it is a marvellous picture for a young man of twenty-five, and it is generally accepted a the first milestone it the career of the painter, and as marking a new departure.

In the forty long years of Rembrandt’s incessant activity as an artist about seven hundred pictures are known to have come from his own hand. It is therefore clearly impossible within the space at our disposal to notice more than the prominent works in their order. Besides the Pellicorne family portraits of 1632, we have the caligraphist Coppenol of the Cassel Gallery, interesting in the first place as an early example of Rembrandt’s method of giving permanent interest to a portrait by converting it into a picture. He invests it with a sense of life by a momentary expression as Coppenol raises his head towards the spectator while he is mending a quill. The same motive is to be found in the Shipbuilder, 1633 (of Buckingham Palace) who looks up from his up from his work with a sense of interruption at the approach of his wife. But the worthy Coppenol, "the Phoenic of the Pen," has another charm for us ; he was one of Rembrants’ earliest friends in his new abode and remained true to the end, being painted thrice and etched twice by the artist, the last of whose portrait etchings (1661) was the Coppenol of large size. The two small pictures of the Philosopher of the Louvre date from 1633, delicate in execution and full of mysterious effect. The year 1634 is especially remarkable as that of his marriage with Saskia van Ulenburgh, a beautiful, fair haired Frisian maiden of good connexions. Till her death in 1642 she was the centre of his life and art, and lives for us in many a canvas as well as in her own portraits. On her the painter lavished his magical power, painting her as the Queen Artemisia or Bathsheba, and as the wife of Samson,—always proud of her long fair locks, and covering her with pearls and gold as precious in their play of colour as those of the Indies. A joyous pair as we see them in the Dresden Gallery Saskia sitting on his knee while he laughs gaily, or promenadaing together in a fine picture of 1636, or putting the last touches of ornament to her toilette, for thus Bode interprets the so-called Burgomaster Pancras and his Wife. These were his happy days when he painted himself in his exuberant fantasy, and adorned himself, at least in his portraits, in scarfs and feathers and gold chains. Saskia brought him a marriage portion of forty thousand guilders, a large sum for those times, and she brought him also a large circle of good friends in Amsterdam. She bore him four children, Rumbartus and two girls successively named Cornelia after his beloved mother, all of whom died in infancy, and Titus, named after Titia a sister of Saskia. We have several noble portrits of Saskia, a good type of the beauty of Holland, all painted with the utmost love and care, at Cassel (1643) at Berlin. But the greatest in workmanship and most pathetic in expression seems to us, though it is decried by Bode, that of Antwerp (1641), in which it is impossible not to trace declining health and to find a melacholy presage of her death, which took place in 1642. Then truly went out the light of Rembrandt’s life.

Returning to Rembrandt’s work, we find one of the greatest portraits of 1634 to be the superb full length portrait of Martin Daey, which with that of Madame Daey, painted according to Vosmaer some years later, formed one of the ornaments of the Van Loon collection at Amsterdam. Both now belon to Baron Gustave de Rothschild. From firm detailed execution of this portrait one turns with wonder to the broader handling of the Old Woman, aged eithy-three, in the National Gallery, of the same year, remarkable for the effect of reflected light and still more for the sympathetic rendering of character.

The life of Samson supplied many subjects in these early days. The so-called Count of Gueldres Threatening his Father-in-law of the Berlin Gallery has been restored to its proper signification by M. Kolloff, who finds it to be Samson. It is forced and violent in its action. But the greatest of this series, and one of the prominent pictures of Rembrandt’s work, is the Marriage of Samson of the Dresden Gallery, painted in 1638. Here Rembrandt gives the rein to his imagination and makes the scene lives before us. Except the bride (Saskia), who sits calm and grand on a dais in the centre of the feast, with the full light again playing on her flowing locks and wealth of jewels, all is animate and full of bustle. Samson, evidently a Rembrandt of fanstasy, leans over a chair propouding his riddle to the Philistine lords. In execution it is a great advance on former subject pictures ; it is bolder in manner, and we have here signs of his approaching love of warmer tones of red and yellow. It is also a fin example of his magic play of colour.





The story of Susannah also occupied him in these early years, and he returned to the subject in 1641 and 1653. The Bather of the National Gallery may also be another interpretation of the same theme. In all of these pictures the woman is course in type and lumpy in form, though the modelling is soft and round, the effect which Rembrandt always strove to gain. Beauty of form was outside his art. But the so-called Danae (1636) at St Petersburg is a sufficient reply to those who decry his nude female forms. As flesh painting t glows with colour and life, and the blood seems to pulsate under the warm skin. In the picturesque story of Tobit Rembrandt found much to interest him, as we see in the beautiful small picture of the Arenberg collection at Brussels. Sight is being restored to the aged Tobias, while with infinite tenderness his wife holds the old man’s hand caressingly. The momentrary action is complete, and the picture goes straight to the heart. In the Berlin Gallery he paints the anxiety of the parents as they wait the return of their son. In 1637 he painted the fine picture now in the Louvre of the Flight of the Angel ; and the same subjects is grandly treated by him, apparently about 1645, in the picture exhibited in the winter exhibition at Burlington House in 1885. Reverence and awe are shown in every attitude of the Tobit family. A similar lofty treatment is to be found in the Christ as the Gardener appearing to Mary of 1638 (Buckingham Palace).

We have now arrived at the year 1640, the threshold of his second manner, which extended to 1654, the middle age of Rembrandt. During the latter part of the previous blending of light and shade more perfect. There is a growing power in every part of his art. The colness of his first manner had disappeared, and the tones were gradually changing into golden-brown. He had passed through what Bode calls his "Sturm-und-Drang" period of exaggerated expression, as in the Berlin Samson, and had attained to a truer, calmer form of dramatic expression, of which the Manoah of Dresden is a good example (1641). Whether it was that he was getting tired of painting commissioned portraits, that he was independent of them, or that he aimed at higher flights, it is certain that these portraits painted "to order" became more rare about this time, and that those which we have a chiefly friends of is circle, such as the Mennonite Preacher (C.C. Ansloo) and the Gilder (Le Doreur), a fine example of his golden tone, formerly in the Morny collection and now in America. His own splendid portrait (1640) in the National Gallery illustrates the change in his work. It describes the man well,—strong and robust, with powerful head, firm compressed lips and determined chin, with heavy eye-brows, separated by a deep vertical furrow, and with eyes of keen penetrating glance,—altogether a self reliant man that would carry out his own ideas, careless whether his popularity waxed or waned. The fantastic rendering of himself has disappeared ; he seems more conscious of his dignity and position. He has now many friends and pupils, and numerous commissions, even from the stadholder ; he ;has bought a large house in the Breedstraat, in which during the next sixteen years of his life he gathered his large collection of paintings, engravings, armour, and costume which figure afterwards in his inventory. His taste was wide and his purchases large, for he was joint owner with picture dealers of paintings by Giorgione and Palmla Vecchio, while for a high-priced Marcantonio Raimondi print he gave in exchange a fine impression of his Christ Healing the Sich, which has since been known as the Hundred Guilder Print. The stadt-holder was not a prompt payer, and an interesting correspondence took place between Rembrandt and Constantin Huygens, the poet and secretary of the prince. The Rembrandt letters which have come down to us are few and these are therefore of importance. Rembrandt puts a high value on the picture, which he says had been printed "with much are and zeal," but he is willing to take what the price thinks proper ; while to Huygens he sends a large picture as a present for his trouble in carrying through the business. There is here no sign of the grasping greed with which he has been charge, while his unselfish conduct is seen in the settlement of the family affairs at the death of his mother in 1640.

The year 1642 is remarkable for the great picture formerly known as the Night Watch, but now more correctly as the Sortie of the Banning Cock Company, another of the landmarks of Rembrandt’s career, in which twenty-nine life-sized civic guards are introduced issuing pell-mell from club house. Such guilds of arquebusiers had been painted admirably before by Ravesteyn and notably by Frans Hals, but Rembrandt determined to throw life and animation into the scene, which is full of bustle and movement. One can almost hear the beating of the drum and the barking of the dog. The dominant colour is the cirtron yellow uniform of the lieutenant, wearing a blue sash, while a Titian-like dress of a musketeer, the black velvet dress of the captain, and the varied green of the girl and drummer, all produced a rich and harmonious effect. The background has became dark and heavy by accident or neglect, and the scutcheon on which the names are painted is scarcely to be seen.

But this year of great achievement was also the year of his great loss, for Saskia died in 1642, leaving Rembrandt her sole trustee for her son Titus, but with full use of the money till he should marry again or till the marriage of Titus. The words of the will express her love for her husband and her confidence in him. With her death his life was changed. Bode had remarked that there is pathetic sadness in his pictures of the Holy Family,—a favourite subject at this period of his life. All of thee he treats with the naïve simplicity of Reformed Holland, giving us the real carpenter’s shop and the mother watching over the Infant reverently and lovingly, with a fine union of realism and idealism. It is true indeed that the circumstances of his time and country made it impossible for him to attempt to realize the ancient forms of Hebrew life, or to revive the bye-past race of Judaea. He was content, as the Old Italian were, with the types around him. The street in which he lived swarmed with Dutch and Portuguese Jews, and many a Jewish rabbi sat to him. He accepted their turbans and local dress as characteristic of the people. But in his religious pictures it is not the costume we look at ; what strikes us is the profound perception of the sentiment of the story, making them true to all time and independent of local circumstance. A notable example of this feeling is to be found in the Woman Taken in Adultery of the National Gallery, painted in 1644 in the manner of the Simeion of the Hague. Beyond the ordinary claims of art, it commands our attention from the grand conception of the painter who here as in other pictures and etchings has invested Christ with a majestic dignity which recalls Leonardo and no other. A similar lofty ideal is to be found in his various renderings of the Pilgrims at Emmaus, notably in the Louvre picture of 1648, in which, as Mrs Jameson says, "he returns to those first spiritual principles which were always the downy of ancient art. Here we have before us a countenance pale and tender, meek and lowly of heart, adorned only with holiness and a glorified life." From the same year we have the Good Samarian of the Louvre, the story being told with intense pathos. The helpless suffering of the wounded man, the curiosity of the boy on tiptoe, the excited faces at the upper window, are all conveyed with masterly skill. In these two last pictures we find a broader touch and freer handling, while the tones pass into a dull yellow and brown with a marked predilection for deep rich red. Whether it was that this scheme of colour found no favour with the Amsterdamers, who, as Hoogstraten tell us, could not understand the Sortie, it seems certain that Rembrandt was not invited to take any leading part in the celebration of the congress of Westphalia of this year (1648), a year famous in Dutch history for the European declaration of the independence of Holland, and in Dutch art as the subject of Terburg’s picture in the National Gallery and of Van der Helst’s famous Banquet of the Civic Guard at Amsterdam.

Rembrandt touched no side of art without setting his mark on it, whether in still life, as in his dead birds or the Slaughtered Ox of the Louvre, or in his drawings of elephants and lions, all of which are instinct with life. But at this period of his career we come upon a branch of his art on which he left both in etching and in painting, the stamp of his genius, viz., landscape, Roeland Roghman, but ten years his senior, evidently influenced his style, for the resemblance between their works is so great that, as at Cassel, there has been confusion of authorship. Hercules Seghers also was much appreciated by Rembrandt, for at his sale eight pictures by this master figure in the inventory, and Vosmaer discovered that Rembrandt had worked on a plate by Seghers and had added figures to an etched Flight into Egypt. The earliest pure landscape known to us from Rembrandt'’ hand is the Winter Scene of Cassel (1646), silvery and delicate. As a rule in his painted landscape he aims at grandeur and poetical effect, as in the Repose of the Holy Family of 1647 (till recently called the Gipsies), a moonlight effect, clear even in the shadows. The Canal of Lord Lansdowne, and the Mountain Landscape with the Approaching Storm, the sun shining out behind the heavy clouds, are both conceived and executed in this spirit. A similar poetical vein runs through the Castle on the Hill of Cassel, in which the beams of the setting sun strike on the castle while the valley is sunk in the shades of approaching night. More powerful still is the weird effect of Lord Lansdowne’s Windmill, with its glow of light and darkening shadows. In all these pictures light with its magical influences is the theme of the poet-painter. Form the number of landscapes by himself in the inventory of his sale, it would appear that these grand works were not appreciated by his contemporaries. The last of the landscapes series dates from 1655 or 1656, the close of the middle age of manhood of Rembrandt, a period of splendid power. In the Joseph Accused by Potiphar’s Wife of 1654 we have great dramatic vigour and perfect mastery of expression, while the brilliant colour and glowing effect of light and shade attest his strength. To this period also belongs the great portrait of himself in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. But evil days were at hand. The long–continued wars and civic troubles had worn out the country. Trade and commerce languished, and in Amsterdam hundreds of houses were empty. Rebrandts’ brother had suffered and money was scarce. His own and doubtless Saskia’s means were tied up in his house and in his large collection of valuable pictures, and we find Rembrandt borrowing considerable sums of money on the security of his house to keep things going. Perhaps, as Bode suggests, this was the reason of his extraordinary activity at this time. Then, unfortunately, in this year of 1654, we find Rembrandt involved in the scandal of having a child by his servant Hendrickie Jaghers or Stoffels, as appears by the books of the Reformed Church at Amsterdam. He recognized the child and gave it the name of Cornelia after his much-loved mother, but there is no proof that he married the mother, and the probability is against such a marriage, as the provisions of Saskia’s will would in that case have come into force, and her fortune would have passed at once to her son Titus. Hendrickie seems to have continued to live with him, for we find her claiming a chest as her property at his sale in 1658. Doubtless she is the peasant girl of Rasdorf to whom Houbraken says Rembrandt was married. Sad as the story is Hendrickie has an interest for us. Bode asserts that is his art there was always a woman in close relationship to Rembrandt and appearing in his work—his mother, his sister, and then Saskia. Are there any traces of Hendrickie? What if the little servant maid of ten years, painted about 1645 (Dulwich Gallery), and again in the Demidoff picture of the same year, in which the girl is painted in the red dress of a Dutch orphan, in both cases smiling and leaning over a window, were the maidservant of his house in 1654? The ages would correspond. Bode suggest that the beautiful portrait of the Lady in the Salon Carré of the same gallery may represent Henrrickie and her child. Both pictures belong to this date, and by their treatment are removed from the category of Rembrandt’s usual portraits. But if this is conjecture, we get nearer to fact when we look at the picture exhibited at Burlington House in 1883 to which tradition has attached the name of "Rembrandt’s Mistress." At a glance one can see that it is not the mere head of a model, as the lies in bed raising herself to put aside a curtain as if she heard a well-known footstep. It is clearly a woman in whom Rembrandt had a personal interest. The date is clearly 165, the fourth figure being illegible ; but the brilliant carnations and masterly touch connect it with the Potiphar’s Wife of 1654 and the Jaghers period. It is painful to turn from this attempt to trace the life of Rembrandt in his work to the sadder side of the story. In 1656 his financial affairs became more involved, and the Orphans’ Chambre transferred the house and ground to Titus, though Rembrandt was still allowed to take charge of Saskia’s estate. Nothing, however, could avert the rune of the painter, who was declared bankrupt in July 1656, an inventory of all his property being ordered by the Insolvency Chamber. The first sale took place in 1657 in the Keizerskroon hotel, Thomas Jacobz Haring, a well-known names in connexion with Rembrandt’s art, being auctioneer ; and th second, at which the larger part of the etchings and drawings were disposed of, in 1658—"collected by Rembrandt himself with much love and care," says the catalogue. The sum realized, under 5000 guilders, was but a fraction of their value. The time was unfavourable over the whole of Europe for such sales, the brought but a comparatively small everything he possessed even to his table linen, Rembrandt took a modest logding in the same Keizerskroon hostelry (the amounts of his bills are in record), apparently without friends and thrown entirely on himself. But there was no failure here, for this dark year of 1656 stands out prominently as one in which some of his greatest works were produced, as, for example, John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, belonging to Lord Dudley, and Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, of the Cassel Gallery. It is impossible not to respect the man who amid the utter ruin of his affairs, could calmly conceive and carry out such noble work. Yet even in his art one can set that the tone of his mind was sombre. Instead of brilliancy of 1654 we have for two or three years a preference for dull yellows, reds, and greys with a certain measure of uniformity of tone. The handling is broad and rapid, as if to give utterance to the ideas which crowded on his mind. There is less caressing of colour for its own sake, even less straining after vigorous effect of light and shade. Still the two pictures just named are among the greatest works of the master. To the same year belongs the Lesson in Anatomy of Johann Deyman, another of the many men of science with whom Rembrandt was closely associated. The subject is similar to the great Tulp of 1632, but his manner and power of colour had advanced so much that Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his visit to Holland in 1781, was reminded by it of Michelangelo and Titian._ Vosmaer ascribes to the same year, though Bode places it later, the famous portrait of Jan Six, the future burgomaster, consummate in its ease and character, as Six descends the steps of his house drawing on his glove. The connexion between Rembrandt and the great family of Six was long and close, and is honourable to both. Jan married a daughter of Tulp the anatomist, one of Rembrandt’s earliest friends. In 1641 the mother of Six, Anna Wymer, had been painted with consummate skill by Rembrandt, who also executed in 1647 the beautiful etching of Six standing by a window reading his tragedy of "Medea," afterwards illustrated by his friend. Now he paints his portrait in the prime of manhood, and in the same year of gloom paints for him the masterly John the Baptist. Six, if he could not avert the disaster of Rembrandt’s life, at least stood by him in the darkest hour, when certainly the creative energy of Rembrandt was in full play. The same period gives us the Master of the Vineyard, and the Adoration of the Magi of Buckingham Palace.

After the sale of the house in the Breedstraat Rembrandt retired to the Rosengracht, an obscure quarter at the west end of the city. Vosmaer thinks he has traced the very house, but some doubts have been thrown on this discovery by De Roever. We are now drawing to the splendid close of his career in his third manner, in which his touch became broader, his impasto more solid, and his knowledge more complete. Hastening on by quicker steps, we may mention the Old Man with the Grey Beard of the National Gallery (1657), and the Bruyningh, the Secretary of the Insolvents’ Chamber, of Cassel (1658), both leading up to the great portraits of the Syndics of the Cloth Hall of 1661. Nearly thirty years separate us from the Lesson in Anatomy, years of long-continued observation and labour. The knowledge thus gathered, the problems solved, the mastery attained, are shown here in abundance. Rembrandt returns to the simplest gamut of colour, but shows his skill in the use of it, leaving on the spectator an impression of absolute enjoyment of the result, unconscious of the means. The plain burghers dealing with the simple concerns of their guild arrest our attention as if they were the makers of history. The live for ever.

In his old age Rembradt continued to paint his own portrait as assiduously as in his youthful and happy days. About twenty of these portraits are known, a typical one being found in the National Gallery. All show the same self-reliant expression, though broken down indeed by age and the cares of a hard life. There is in Stockholm a large and unfished picture which, if painted by Rembrandt, belong to the late years of his life (etched by Waltner, Gaz. Des Beaux-Arts, Nov. 1874). It is catalogued as the Oath of John Ziska, certainly a strange subject for Rembrandt. Bode accepts the more natural interpretation of Prof. Anton Springer, viz., the Feast of Judas Maccabaeus, and ascribes the picture to an earlier date than that given by Vosmaer. Havard, however, after careful examination, attributes the work to Carel Fabritius.

About the year 1663 Rembrandt painted the (so-called) Jewish Bride of the Van der Hoop Gallery and the Family Group of Brunswick, the last and perhaps the most brilliant works of his life, bold and rapid in execution and marvellous in the subtle mixture and play of colours in which he seems to revel. The woman and children are painted with such love that the impression is conveyed that they represent a fancy family group of the painter in his old age. This idea received some confirmation from the supposed discovery that he left a widow Catherine Van Wyck and two children, but this theory falls to the ground, for De Roever has shown (Oud Holland, 1883) that Catherine was the widow of a marine painter Theunisz Blanckerhoff, who died about the same time as Rembrandt. The mistake arose from a miscopying of the register. The subject of these pictures is thus more mysterious than ever.

In 1668 Titus, the only son of Rembrandt, died, leaving one child, and on 8th October 1669 the great painter himself passed away, leaving two children, and was buried in the Wester Kerk. He had outlived his popularity, for his manner of painting, as we know from contemporaries, was no longer in favour with a people who preferred the smooth trivialities of Van der Werff and the younger Mieris, the leaders of an expiring school.

We must give but a short notice of Rembrandt’s achievements in etching. Here he stands out by universal confession as first, excelling all by his unrivalled technical skill, his mastery of expression, and the lofty conceptions of may of his great pieces, as in the Death of the Virgin, the Christ Preaching, the Christ Healing the Sick (the Hundred Guilder Print), the Presentation to the People, the Crucifixion, and others. So great is his skill simply as an etcher that one is apt o overlook the nobleness of the etcher’s ideas and the depth of his nature, and this tendency has been doubtless confirmed by the enormous difference in money value between "states" of the same plate, rarity giving in many cases a fictitious worth in the eyes of collectors. The points of difference between these states arise from the additions and changes made by Rembrandt on the plate ; an the prints taken off by him have been subjected to the closet inspection by Bartsch, Gersaint, Wilson, Daulby, De Claussin, C. Blanc, Willshire, Seymour Haden, Middleton, and others, who have described them at great length and to whom the reader is referred. The classification of Rembrandt’s ethcings adopted till lately was the artificial one of treating them according to the subject, as Biblical, portrait, landscape, and so on ; and to Vosmaer must be ascribed the credit of being the first to view Rembrandt’s etched work, as he has done his work in painting, in the more scientific and interesting line of chronology. This method has been developed by Mr Seymour Haden and Mr Middleton, and is now universally accepted. But even so recently as 1873 M. C. Blanc, in his fine work L’Ceuvre complet de Rembrandt, still adheres to the older and less intelligent arrangement, resting his preference on the frequent absence of dates on the etchings and more strangely still on the equality of the work. Mr Seymour Haden’s reply is conclusive, "that the more important etchings which may be taken as types are dated, and that, the style of the etchings at different periods of Rembrandt’s career being fully as marked as that of his paintings, no more difficulty attends the classification of one than of the other." Indeed M. Vosmaer points out in his life of Rembrandt that three is a marked parallelism between Rembrandt’s painted and etched work, his early work in both cases being timed and tentative, while he gradually gains strength and character both with the brush and the graver’s tools. M. Vosmaer’s scheme of chronological order has doubtless been challenged in some respects, but it gave the deathblow to the older system. Mr Seymour Haden has started the theory that many of the etchings ascribed to Rembrandt up to 1640 were the work of his pupils, and seems to make out his case though it may be carried too far. He argues (in his monograph on the Etched Work of Rembrandt, 1877) that Rembrandt’s real work in etching began after Saskia’s death, when he assumes that Rembrandt betook himself to Elsbroek, the country house of his "powerful friend" Jan Six. But it msut be remembered that the future burgomaster was then but a young student of twenty-four, a member of a great family it is true, but unmarried and taking as yet no share in public life. That Rembrandt was a frequent visitor at Elsbroek, and that the Three Trees and other etchings may have been produced there, may be admitted without requiring us to believe that he ahd left Amsterdam as his place of abode. The great period of his etching lies between 1639 and 1661, after which the old painter seems to have renounced the needle. In these twenty years were produced his greatest works in portraiture, landscape, and Bible story. They bear the impress of the genius of the man.

In addition to the authors named, the reader is referred to W. Bürger (the nom de plume of Th. Thoré), Musées de la Hollande, 1858-1860 ; E. Fromentin, Maîtres d’ autrefois ; H. Havard, L’École Hollandaise ; Scheltema, Rembrand, Discours ur sa Vie, 1866 ; Ath. Cocquerel fils, Rembrandt, son individualisme dans l’ art, Paris, 1869.—Since the foregoing was put in type, a new and valuable work on Rembrandt, chiefly as the etcher, has appeared from the pen of M. Eugène Dutuit (L’Ceuvre complet de Rembrandt, Paris, 1885). M. Dutuit rejects the classification of M.C. Blanc as dubious and unwarranted, dismisses the chronological arrangement proposed by M. Vosmaer and adopted by Mar Seymour Haden and Mr Middletone as open to discussion and lacking in possibility of proof, and reverts to the order established by Gersaint, ranging his materials under twelve heads:—Portrait (real and supposed), Old Testament and New Testament subjects, histories, landscapes, &c. (J. F. W.)



The above article was written by: John F. White, M.A., LL.D., joint author of the Life and Art of George Paul Chalmers, R.S.A., and many articles on ancient and modern art.



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