"We see nothing truly until we understand it"~ John Constable

Rembrandt, van Rijn

Genre: Historical Decorative Art

Hordaland Voss

Style: Hardaland Voss
©Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum



Classical Art History

Savery, Roelant

"Bouquet of Flowers "
Savery, Roelant
Italian Painter 1576 - 1639
Baroque Period


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Aristotle was quoted as saying, “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.”  When we experience the struggles and successes of those who came before us, this can only motivate us to try harder. Reflecting on the work of the Old Masters keeps us humble.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Night Watch, 1606-1669
Dutch – Baroque

Rembrandt was once said, "Practise what you know, and it will help to make clear what now you do not know"

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Dutch – Baroque

No other artist conjours up instant images of the Old Masters more than this artist does. His paintings give us clues into the of a master. The art historian Sister Wendy Becket says of Rembrandt, “Rembrandt is a master story teller.” We see this in all of his work; but he still leaves it up to our imagination to interpret the mood and the subjects...

It is believed that Rembrandt was born in the Dutch city of Leiden in the year 1606 during the Golden Age of Dutch painting. He comes from a large family and was the ninth child of Neeltje van Suijttbroeck and her husband Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn. The parents had been married for seventeen years by the time Rembrandt arrived to the couple. It was a large family, and there were ten children in the van Rijn family. Rembrandt’s father was malt miller by profession and worked for one of the local breweries.

The family encouraged all their children to become craftsmen, sending all Rembrandt's siblings to be trained in one craft or another.  Of all the siblings, Rembrandt was the only one who was encouraged to go to school to study Latin. Between 1613 and 1620, Rembrandt spent seven years at the school and then he enrolled at the University of Leiden to study the Classics. (For us to keep things in perspective, timewise, 1620 is also the year that the first immigrants traveled on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the United States.)
It appears that after Rembrandt joined the school he changed his course a while later and began studying under the supervision of the artist Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh. Historians believe that his short apprenticeship under this Dutch Historical painter, Pieter Lastman, may have had a greater and more lasting influence on his body of work, than his first teacher.

The first of Rembrandt’s work were history paintings (these were paintings created to document specific historical events) these came from the first studio that he established along with another artist by the name of Jan Lievens. During this period, Rembrandt produces many self portraits, etchings and numerous sketches.  It appears that his major break through was in 1628 when he is discovered by Constantijn Huygens, secretary of Prince Frederik Hendrick. This man was well educated and appreciated the fine work of skilled artists. The former soon becomes a patron of Rembrandts and this leads to further commissions by the English Crown.

The young artist is greatly encouraged by the initial success that he received and is drawn to the larger city of Amsterdam. In 1631 he moves in with a well known art dealer. This exposure quickly helps Rembrandt make a name for him self and he is soon recognized as a portrait painter sought after by rich patrons. A prolific painter, Rembrandt painted over thirty works during the year of 1632.  He was also commissioned by a wealthy surgeon, Dr. Nicolaes Tulp who is well known in Amsterdam.

In the year 1634, Rembrandt fell in love with Saskia van Uylenburgh, who was the niece of the art dealer; the couple married and continued to live in Amsterdam. Rembrandt joined the Guild of St Luke where he begins working and training pupils and apprentices. There are several artists who went on to become famous artists after studying under the tutelage of Rembrandt. One is the famous Govert Flinct and the other Ferdinand Bol. A couple of years later, in 1636, Rembrandt begins to trade in scientific and exotic items as well as some historic artifacts.  He also collects plants. We can see evidence of this love for the exotic in some of his paintings, his models are dressed in fine clothing and the settings are very dramatic. It is also thought that he used his wife, Saskia as a model for several of his paintings.

Rembrandts life begins to be filled with sadness and stress. The couple looses the first child, a baby boy who dies in 1635. Three years later, in 1638 a daughter is born to the couple and she too passes away as a baby. Two years pass and in 1640 Rembrandt‘s mother passes away. The couple moved into a new house in Breestraat and he works to pay it off in a short period of time, hopefully five to six years. In 1641, the couple finally has a new child, a boy, Titus. All appears well when grief strikes again. In 1642, sadly, Saskia suddenly dies and leaves the artist grief stricken and in crisis with a young child under the age of two years old.

A woman by the name of Geertge Dircx moves into the home to take care of the baby, and it is thought that she was more than a care giver to the child. Rembrandt continued to work on his painting, producing several famous etchings. The artist’s fame and notoriety continued to grow and his work was sought after by many. Rembrandt and the woman Geertge had disagreements and eventually the woman takes him to court claiming that Rembrandt pledged to her and broke his vow.  The case is thrown out and the woman spends several years under incarceration of some kind. Eventually another woman by the name of Hendrickje Stoffels moves into the household to help the widowed father and Rembrandt falls in love with the woman and they share the home together. They have a daughter, named Cornelia, but were not married.

Some believe that Rembrandt may lived above his means, what ever the case, he found himself in debt and was borrowing money even though he received sizable payments from the sales of his work. In 1656 Rembrandt declares personal bankruptcy.  A few years later his home and great collections are sold to pay debts and he moves in with his Jewish and Mennonite friends at the Roozzengracht.  Here the artist, at the young age of 52 leads a very quite life.

As time passed, during the year of 1660, Titus, Rembrandt’s son and the woman Hendrickje open an art shop and Rembrandt is hired by them to teach. He continues to teach students and to paint commissioned work. Three years later, Hendrickje suddenly passes away. It seems that the artist no sooner recovers from one grave loss that he is devastated by another. His son Titus, a mature young man now just twenty four years old, falls in love and marries a woman named Magdalena van Loo in the winter of 1665. Only six months later the family suffers another heartbreaking loss, Titus too passes away. Rembrandt moves in with the young widow, his new daughter-in-law. There the artists spends his final days and passes away at the age of sixty three on October 4th. 1669. This artist leaves a legacy for generations to come.
Perhaps, and this may be speculation, but the seriousness of the artists works may explain the sorrows and trials of his life.

Rembrandt – Michael Bockemuhl ISBN - 382286320-3
Rembrandt the Master & his Workshop – Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch, Pieter van Thiel
The Treasures by Rembrandt by Michiel Roscam Abbiny

The Age of Rembrandt - Exerbition catalog under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Mrs Lyndon B. Johnson.

Rembrandt van Rijn – His Art
1606 -1669

The Night Watch, painted in 1642 by Rembrandt van Rijn, and on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is one of the most famous, recognized, and cherished paintings in the world.  This masterpiece is on equal footing with da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper, and van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Potato Eaters.

The painting was commissioned by a branch of Amsterdam’s civil guard, called the Kloveniers.  There were 3 different branches of Civic guardsmen each with their own function.  These branches were called guilds or schutters-guilden (guilds of marksmen). The name given to the guilds was based on the type of weapon the respective groups were trained to use: the crossbow, the hand bow, and a firearm known as a klover.  This painting was to hang in the great hall of the newly built headquarters.  It was quite common at that time for the different branches of the civic guard to have group portraits painted and hung in their meeting hall.  Up until Rembrandt’s Night Watch, these portraits were primarily orderly and formal, portraying each member in a flattering and visible manner.  Of interest here is that Rembrandt portrayed some members of the company to be partially obscured by the action, in fact, a figure way in the back with only part of his face visible is in fact one of the many ‘self portraits’ of Rembrandt. But, never again after this dynamic portrayal would group portraits be stiff and formal. The Night Watch is all action and power; everyone in the scene has personality, purpose, and movement. There is a sense of energy, excitement, and vitality.  One can almost envision a director shouting, “Lights, camera, action”. The men are under the leadership of Captain Frans Cocq, and are marching out, not because they are ordered to, but one feels they want to, the mood is infectious.   
Rembrandt surely must have had a mental image of the finished painting.  He did not work from sketches or drawings of the whole composition.   He used a thin monochromatic paint (dead color) and brush sketched the scene in full size on a dark ground.  He used touches of color and highlights to clarify any vague areas. This was his foundation; he worked from back to front, painting with pigments and in full detail.  Rembrandt used his paint sparingly, achieving tones he desired in only one or two layers.  As he worked he was conscious of details and areas of local color, as well as the spatial effect of the whole painting. He modified and altered the size of objects and people, used light and dark in appropriate areas, and effectively used broad brush strokes, to preserve the illusion of depth.  When the painting was completed, Rembrandt added finishing touches and delicate white highlights. Studying various areas in the Night Watch and comparing one area to another, it is amazing to see the variation in resolution, coloring, and surface treatment.  The first recorded comment in 1758 by the restorer, Jan van Dijk, in essence referred to the respect of power, especially in the brushstrokes; the strong sunlight scene; the amazing coarseness with so much finesse.

The name Night Watch was not in use until people began to think that it actually was a ‘night’ scene. The overall darkness of the painting was due to the great amount of boiled oil and varnishes that had been used over time.  In 1758, Jan van Dijk cleaned the painting for the first time and declared that it was painted in strong sunlight – definitely a day scene. It is unknown what the painting was originally called.

The canvas is enormous – 11ft 3in X 17ft 4in
Rembrandt had a platform built behind his home where the Night Watch was painted, as it was too large to fit in any room within the house.
From 1642 to 1715 the Night Watch was housed in the Kloveniersdoelen great hall, but by 1715, the civic guard was no longer under the supervision of the government, its control passed to the local township.  The great hall began to be used for more functions and the city fathers decided to move some of the more vulnerable paintings. Thus the Night Watch was taken to the Small War Council Chamber on the upper floor of the town hall.  Its new home proved too small for the enormous painting and it was ‘trimmed’ on all four sides, especially on the left where 3 figures were removed.  The original size has been lost in the ‘trimming’.

This great painting has suffered considerable damage over the years.  Until it was placed in a museum, restorers have documented 63 holes and tears attributed to accidental damage. Besides the controlled damage by the authorities in 1715 to resize the canvas, it was severely damaged by a mentally ill man in 1976 with a knife, and in 1990 a man attacked the painting with acid.  All these catastrophes have been addressed and successfully repaired by the Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt van Rijn received sixteen hundred guilders for painting the Night Watch.

Rembrandt – Michael Bockemuhl
Rembrandt the Master & his Workshop – Christopher Brown, Jan Kelch, Pieter van Thiel
The Treasures by Rembrandt by Michiel Roscam Abbiny

Rembrandt Book Title: The Rembrandt Book
Author:  Gary Swartz
ISBN: 0810943174
General Topic: Art History
Rembrandt Book Title: Rembrandt: The Master and His Workshop: Paintings (National Gallery London Publications)
Author:   Christopher Leslie Brown, Jan Kelch & Pieter van Thiel
General Topic: Art History
Rembrandt Book Title: Images of the Feminine in Rembrandt's Work
Author:  Anat Gilboa
ISBN: 9051669542
General Topic: Art History


Rembrand DVD Media: DVD
Title: Rembrandt 400 Years
Author:  Foreign Media Group
ISBN: B000FTW356
General Topic: Art History
Rembrandt DVD Media: DVD & Video
Title: Rembrandt
Author: MGM
General Topic: Drama
Rembrandt Media: DVD
Title: Rembrandt
Author:  Kultur Video
General Topic: Art History
Rembrandt Video Media: DVD
Title: Rembrandt Fathers & Sons
Author:  Devine Entertainment in association with Alef Jo Filmstudio and Cinemaginare
General Topic: Drama



Rembrandt van Rijn 's Gallary - click on each image for a larger view.

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