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Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 - October 4, 1669) is generally considered the most important Dutch painter of the 17th century (also known as the Dutch Golden Age). Rembrandt was also a proficient engraver and made lots of drawings. His contributions to art were made in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, an age (roughly equivalent to the 17th century) in which Dutch culture, science, commerce, world power and political influence reached its pinnacle.

- Self-portrait by Rembrandt (1661) -

All in all Rembrandt produced around 600 paintings, 300 etchings and 2000 drawings. He was a prolific painter of self-portraits, producing almost a hundred of them (including some 20 etchings) throughout his long career. Together they give us a remarkable clear picture of the man, his looks, but more importantly his emotions, as misfortune and sorrow etched wrinkles in his face.

His command of light and dark, often using stark contrasts, thus drawing the viewer into the painting, his dramatic and lively scenes, devoid of any rigid formality that contemporary artists often displayed, his ostensibly deep felt compassion for mankind, irrespective of wealth and age, are among the characteristics that make Rembrandt understood and appreciated by so many all over the world.

His immediate family, first wife Saskia, son Titus, and second wife Hendrickje often figured prominently in his paintings (often as model for biblical or historical figures).

Table of contents

His life

Rembrandt was born July 15, 1606, in Leiden, his father a miller, his mother a baker's daughter, one of nine children. He spent his youth and most of his early years as a painter in that city. He attended Latin school and studied less than a year on the University of Leiden.

In 1621 he decided to dedicate himself fully to painting and took lessons from Leiden artist Jacob van Swanenburgh[?]. After a brief but important apprenticeship in Amsterdam (see below) Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens[?]. In 1627 Rembrandt began to accept students.

In 1631 Rembrandt had established such a sound reputation that he received several assignments for portraits from Amsterdam. This made him move to that city and move into the house of his art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh[?]. In 1634 Rembrandt married Hendrick's wealthy niece Saskia van Uylenburg[?]. A daughter of a patrician, she introduced him in higher social circles, which made his fame rise further. He never distanced himself of common people though.

In 1639 Rembrandt and Saskia moved to a prominent house in the Jodenbreestraat, in the Jewish quarter (which later has been turned into the Rembrandt House Museum). Three of their children died shortly after birth. In 1641 they again had a child, a son, whom they called Titus (1641-1668). Saskia died soon after.

In 1645 Hendrickje Stoffels[?], (who had initially been Rembrandt's maidservant), moved in with him. In 1654 this brought him an official reproach from the church for 'living in sin'. In that same year the couple had a daughter, Cornelia.

Rembrandt lived above his means, buying lots of art pieces, costumes (often used in his paintings) and rarities, which caused his bankruptcy in 1656. He had to sell his house and move to a more modest accommodation on the Rozengracht. Here his wife Hendrickje and son Titus started an art shop to make ends meet. Rembrandt's fame waned somewhat in these years, only be restored in later years.

Rembrandt outlived Hendrickje and Titus. In the end only his daughter Cornelia was at his side. He died October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam in poverty and was buried in an unknown grave in the Westerkerk (West Church).


Rembrandt's first teacher, Jacob van Swanenburgh, taught him much of the art of etching.

Rembrandt studied with Pieter Pietersz. Lastman[?] for half a year, in Amsterdam. Lastman, a painter of biblical, mythological and historical scenes, is considered a major influence. He gave Rembrandt a good sense of composition and made him perceptive of religion and history as sources of inspiration for this work. Lastman had himself studied in Italy, in the early years of the century, and naturally passed his Italian discoveries to Rembrandt.


Many students of Rembrandt became famous in their own right. Among them were:

Heated debated is a commonplave amongs Rembrandt experts regarding the authenticity of many of paintings that were long attibuted to him: were they made by Rembrandt himself, by one of his students or partly by both? (see also below)

Periods, Themes and Styles

  • In Rembrandt's Leiden period (1625-1631) the influence of Lastman was most prominent. Paintings were rather small, but rich in details (e.g. in costumes and jewellery). Themes were mostly religious and allegoric.
  • During his early years in Amsterdam (1632-1636) Rembrandt used large canvases and strong tones and depicted dramatic scenes. Rembrandt painted a lot of portraits in this period. His other paintings deal with biblical and mythological scenes.
  • In the late 1630's Rembrandt painted many landscapes and produced etches about nature. In this period his landscapes were tormented by nature, ominous skies with dark clouds, trees taken down by a storm.
  • Starting from about 1640 his work became more sober, reflecting the family tragedies that he had suffered. Exuberance was now replaced by deep felt inner emotions. Biblical scenes were now derived more often from the New Testament instead of the Old Testament, as had been the case before. Paintings became smaller again. An exception is the huge painting The Night Watch (his largest) which was as worldly and spirited as any painting before. Landscapes were now more often etched than painted. The dark forces of nature made way for quiet Dutch rural scenes.
  • In the 1650's Rembrandt's style changed again. Paintings increased in size again. Colours became richer, brush strokes stronger. Doing so Rembrandt distanced himself from earlier work and current fashion, which increasingly inclined towards fine, detailed works. Over the years biblical themes were still depicted often, but with emphasis shifted from dramatic group scenes to intimate portrait like figures.
  • In his latest years Rembrandt painted some of his finest self-portraits, showing a face on which grief and sorrow had left their marks.

- The Nightwatch (1642) -

Museum Collections

Many museums have important collections of Rembrandt paintings, etchings and drawings. In the Netherlands the most notable collection is at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, which exhibits paintings like The Night Watch and the The Jewish Bride. Many of his self-portraits are held in the Hague's Mauritshuis. His home, preserved as the Rembrandt house museum in Amsterdam, houses many examples of his engravings. Prominent collections in other countries can be found in Berlin, St. Petersburg, New York City, Washington D.C. The Louvre and the British Museum.

Famous Works

This is just a small selection. Many of Rembrandts paintings are famous around the world.

The Night Watch

Rembrandt painted The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq between 1640 and 1642. This picture was called the Patrouille de Nuit, by the French and the Night Watch, by Sir Joshua Reynolds because upon its discovery the picture was so dimmed and defaced by time that it was almost indistinguishable and it looked quite like a night scene. After it was cleaned up, it was discovered to represent broad day--a party of musketeers stepping from a gloomy courtyard into the blinding sunlight.

The piece was commissioned for the new hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, the musketeer branch of the civic militia. Rembrandt departed from convention, which ordered that such genre pieces should be stately and formal, rather a line-up than an action scene. Instead he showed the militia readying themselves to embark on a mission (what kind of mission, an ordinary patrol or some special event is matter of debate). His new approach caused a row, especially among the militia members that ended up at the back of the scene and were hardly visible. Payment was delayed. Even parts of the canvas were cut off to make the painting fit on the designated wall.

Expert Assesments

In 1968 the Rembrandt Research Project[?] (RRP) was started under the sponsorship of the Netherlands Organization for the Advancement of Scientific Research (NWO). Art historians teamed up with experts from other fields to reassess the authenticity of works attributed to Rembrandt, using all methods available, including state of the art technical diagnostics, and compile a complete critical catalog of his paintings. As a result of their findings many paintings that were previously attributed to Rembrandt have been taken from the list. Many of those are now thought to be the work of his students such as The Polish Rider, one of the treasures of New York's Frick Collection. Years ago, its authenticity was questioned by several scholars, led by Julius Held. Many now attribute the painting to one of Rembrandt's closest and most talented pupils, Willem Drost including, Dr. Josua Bruyn of the Foundation Rembrandt Research Project.

This investigation is still a work in progress (2002).

Today, a Rembrandt painting can sell for more than US$28 million.

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