Rembrandt van Rijn Painting

Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn was born in the year 1606 to parents of modest means.  His father a prosperous miller and his mother the daughter of a successful baker, yet what they lacked in wealth they made up for with education.  Raised as a Calvinist, Rembrandt grew up in the town of Leiden, which was at that time one of the principal artistic and intellectual centers of the country.

He was educated along with the nine of his siblings at the Latin School, in Leiden.   After his primary education in mathematics, Greek, classical literature, geography and history Rembrandt entered Leiden University.  At the university, he largely studied science, and while he enjoyed the anatomy classes, which would later become significant in his artistic career, Rembrandt abandoned his studies to pursue painting. 

Under the tutelage of Jacob I. van Swanenburch, Rembrandt mastered the basics of painting technique in three years.  He then moved to Amsterdam where he continued his education in the studio of Pieter Lastman.  Lastman like Swanenburch had spent time in Italy thus the works of the Italian masters and the compositional style of Lastman greatly influenced that of Rembrandt.  

The year 1625 saw Rembrandt Van Rijn return to his hometown of Leiden where he established his own studio, and in 1629 began the first of a large collection of self-portraits that would span his lifetime.  He innovatively employed an artistic technique called “Chiaroscuro,” in which light and shade are used within a pictorial presentation, and can also include light and dark subjects within a work.  It was with this technique that Rembrandt not only established his unique style, but also developed into a skill in which he far outdistanced his former masters. His use of Chiaroscuro gave his subjects a physical presence, which for the first time involved the viewer in the painting.  Working alongside Jan Lievens in his Leiden studio, Rembrandt honed his artistic skills when a commission from Dr. Tulp, a well-known physician, brought him back to Amsterdam. 

Association group and commercial guild portraits were popular at the time, yet they were usually stagnant and unimaginative.  Rembrandt Van Rijn’s, however, were decidedly not; in fact, the reception of his works from this particular commission bordered on amazement.  His innovative use of light and the ways in which Rembrandt broke from tradition in his positioning of subjects truly set him apart from his contemporaries.  Because of this his reputation and wealth grew, thus he retained many commissions from the wealthy to paint portraits.  At this time, the portrait was a somewhat rigid form of painting, and the guidelines that were set forth were strictly followed by artists.  What allowed Rembrandt’s painting to stand out was his fantastic use of light and sharp clear technique.  It was then that he met and married the wealthy and beautiful Saskia van Uylenburch.  Rembrandt’s work at this time reflects his contented state and the opulence and energy of his and Saskia’s lifestyle.

Their happiness was to be short lived, for their first three children did not live past infancy.  Finally, in 1641, they found solace in the birth of a son, Titus, who was adored by his parents and was often a subject for Rembrandt’s paintings.  Again, tragedy struck the family when Saskia died at only thirty years of age.  Plunged into sadness Rembrandt still managed to produce what some now consider to be his most significant work: The The Company of F.B. Cocq known as The Night Watch.  This painting in particular evokes not only questions in the viewer but within the painting itself.  A flair for the dramatic and a love of the theatre is evident in this portrait, which is anything but traditional; however, the painting is also tinged by the depression that Rembrandt seemed unable to escape in the wake of his wife’s sudden death.  At the time though, the patron was displeased and the public did not receive the work with enthusiasm.  While the public’s displeasure did not greatly impact his reputation, it was the beginning of a downward spiral into sadness and poverty.  After an affair with Titus’ nursemaid, he fell in love with Hendrickje Stoffels a pretty housemaid.  With her, he found some solace, and they bore a healthy baby girl, Cornelia, in 1654.  Shortly after the baby’s birth, the family moved to a more modest abode on the Rozengracht, there Titus and Hendrickje formed a company through which they employed and sold Rembrandt’s paintings and handled his various affairs.

Again, any contentment was short lived for Hendrickje passed away as did his son some years later.  Throughout this period, Rembrandt Van Rijn continued to paint, and the toll of the pain in his life can be seen through his increasingly pained self-portraits. Finally, on October eighth of 1669, Rembrandt died only a year after his beloved son Titus.  Yet, his legacy of works was left behind as a testament to his innovative and original use of light and action in what had once been considered static forms of art.