Rembrandt was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.
In his paintings and prints he exhibited knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt's knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam's Jewish population. Because of his empathy for the human condition, he has been called "one of the great prophets of civilization.
Rembrandt was born in Leiden. He was the ninth child born to Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuytbrouck. Religion is a central theme in Rembrandt's paintings and the religiously fraught period in which he lived makes his faith a matter of interest. His mother was Roman Catholic, his father belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, but the Dutch Republic was famously tolerant and, while his work reveals deep Christian faith, there is no evidence that Rembrandt formally belonged to any church.
He went to Latin school and after being at the University of Leiden; he was soon apprenticed to a Leiden history painter, Jacob van Swanenburgh, with whom he spent three years and then started his own workshop. Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden in 1624 or 1625, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens. In 1627, Rembrandt began to accept students, among them Gerrit Dou.
In 1629, Rembrandt was discovered by the statesman Constantijn Huygens, a famous Dutch mathematician and physicist, who procured for Rembrandt important commissions from the court of The Hague. As a result of this connection, Prince Frederik Hendrik continued to purchase paintings from Rembrandt until 1646. At the end of 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, then rapidly expanding as the new business capital of the Netherlands, and began to practice as a professional portraitist for the first time, with great success. In 1634, married Hendrick's cousin, Saskia van Uylenburgh. Rembrandt became a burgess of Amsterdam and a member of the local guild of painters. He also acquired a number of students, among them Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck. Only their fourth child, Titus, who was born in 1641, survived into adulthood. Saskia died in 1642 soon after Titus's birth, probably from tuberculosis. Rembrandt's drawings of her on her sick and death bed are among his most moving works.
Rembrandt lived beyond his means, buying art (including bidding up his own work), prints (often used in his paintings), and rarities, which probably caused a court arrangement to avoid his bankruptcy in 1656, by selling most of his paintings and large collection of antiquities. In 1661 Rembrandt was contracted to complete work for the newly built city hall, but only after Govert Flinck, the artist previously commissioned, died without beginning to paint. The resulting work, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, was rejected and returned to the painter. It was around this time that Rembrandt took on his last apprentice, Aert de Gelder. In 1662 he was still fulfilling major commissions for portraits and other works. When Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany came to Amsterdam in 1667, he visited Rembrandt at his house.
Earlier 20th century connoisseurs claimed Rembrandt had produced between 300 and 600 paintings, nearly 400 etchings and 2,000 drawings. There is about 40 paintings as Rembrandt self-portraits, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings. Together they give a remarkably clear picture of the man, his appearance and his psychological make-up, as revealed by his richly weathered face.
Among the more prominent characteristics of Rembrandt's work are his use of chiaroscuro, the theatrical employment of light and shadow derived from Caravaggio, or, more likely, from the Dutch Caravaggisti, but adapted for very personal means. Also notable are his dramatic and lively presentation of subjects, devoid of the rigid formality that his contemporaries often displayed, and a deeply felt compassion for mankind, irrespective of wealth and age. His immediate family often figured prominently in his paintings, many of which had mythical, biblical or historical themes. Stylistically, his paintings progressed from the early "smooth" manner, characterized by fine technique in the portrayal of illusionistic form, to the late "rough" treatment of richly variegated paint surfaces.
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