Rembrandt and His Art

You may have noticed that Rembrandt is in the news today because it’s his 407th birthday and Google has honored him with one of its doodles!

Rembrandt in 1632

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) was born on July 15, 1606 in the Dutch Republic, nowadays the Netherlands. He lived during a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age when Dutch art, science, military, and trade were among the most acclaimed in the world. Rembrandt’s parents were quite well-to-do; his Roman Catholic mother was a baker’s daughter and his Dutch Reformed father was a miller. Rembrandt was their ninth child. As a boy he attended Latin school, spent three years under the apprenticeship of a local painter, and enrolled at the University of Leiden.

(Rembrandt would have been living there at the same time as the Pilgrims, who had fled England to Amsterdam as religious refugees in 1608 and moved to Leiden the next year. They lived and worked in that city for about 12 to 20 years. In 1620, they left Leiden by canal, going back to England where they embarked on the Speedwell. But the Speedwell proved leaky and had to be sold, so they transferred to the Mayflower. The Mayflower undertook the famous voyage to New England in 1620.)

The foremost painter in Reformation Holland, Rembrandt is also considered one of the greatest painters in history. He is famous for his chiaroscuro (kee-ar-uh-SKYOOR-o) technique, which is the dramatic contrast of light and dark. Rembrandt excelled in portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits, and illustrations of Biblical scenes. Many of Rembrandt’s paintings reveal a deep Christian faith, though there is no evidence that he formally belonged to any church. Approximately one-third of his known works (over 300 works of art!) were inspired by the Bible.

Rembrandt often asked his Jewish neighbors to model for his Old Testament scenes. In a number of biblical works (including The Raising of the Cross, Joseph Telling His Dreams and The Stoning of Saint Stephen) Rembrandt painted himself as a character in the crowd. Art connoisseur John Durham suggests that this was because the Bible was for Rembrandt “a kind of diary, an account of moments in his own life.” In his book titled Biblical Rembrandt: Human Painter In A Landscape Of Faith, Durham chooses 130 etchings, drawings, and paintings – all beautifully reproduced – to analyze how the artist approached Scripture. (Mercer University, 320 pages, hardcover.)

Rembrandt was well-known even in his own lifetime. He ran a large art studio and had many pupils. In 1631 Rembrandt moved to the city of Amsterdam where he painted portraits of people professionally. His contemporaries praised him for his attention to detail and his skill in representing emotions. While he was successful professionally, Rembrandt’s personal life was beset with tragedy. His first three children died as infants and his wife, Saskia, died at an early age. Their fourth child, Titus, the only one who survived into adulthood, died a year before Rembrandt did.

Rembrandt Web Resources – Rembrandt Art for Kids. – Rembrandt for Children. – Rembrandt: His Life and Times Lesson Plan Library. – Rembrandt Timeline. – Rembrandt Biography. – Rembrandt’s Life and Work. – Rembrandt at WikiPaintings. – 112 Paintings by Rembrandt at the BBC’s “Your Paintings” site. – The Rembrandt Database. – A Web Catalogue of Rembrandt Paintings. – Interpretations of Rembrandt’s images at “EveryPainterPaintsHimself.” – Rembrandt’s Biblical Work. – Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. – Rembrandt & Kids’ Art Activities. – The Rembrandt Teaching Project is designed to use the works of Rembrandt in an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based, hands-on teaching approach promoting multiple literacies. Targeted at teachers of the Upper Elementary, Junior High School, and High School grades, the project uses art history to teach and enhance instruction in core content areas such as language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

How to Make Your Own Self-Portrait – Set up a mirror next to your drawing paper or canvas. Look at yourself carefully and draw or paint what you see. Keep looking back and forth between your drawing and the mirror to include as many details as you can.

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