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Rembrandt van Rijn



Rembrandt van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606, in Leiden, the Netherlands.  His father was a Miller who wanted his son to get an education and achieve professional success, so Rembrandt was sent to the University of Leiden, where he studied science and anatomy; it was there he gained the knowledge of the human anatomy which would serve him during his artist's career.  Rembrandt wanted to paint more than anything else, so he left University to study painting under Jacob I. van Swanenburch, learning about Italian Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo Buonarroti, but he was influenced by the work of Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, a revolutionary artist known for his unorthodox use of lighting, and the disturbingly erotic manner in he presented his subjects, even biblical figures.

A while later, Rembrandt studied under Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, who taught him the chiaroscuro (light and darkness) technique.   Shortly thereafter, Rembrandt returns to Leiden to set up his own studio, beginning work on a series of self-portraits.  What sets Rembrandt's style apart from that of Lastman's is his composition; like in the works of Caravaggio, Rembrandt's background composition remains dark, while his subject is illuminated in a manner which makes the image appear nearly three dimensional.

Shortly after the death of his father in 1930, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam.  His reputation as a portraitist had grown, and he was now being commissioned to create portraits for individuals, and groups;  it was such a commission from a well known physician that had brought him there in the first place; The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolas Tulp was to become one of the most important paintings in Rembrandt's career, showing the artist's revolutionary vision and mastery of lighting; while most group paintings of the era featured individuals sitting, or standing in line, Rembrandt's painting offered a narrative, as if a photograph had been taken while its subjects were involved in the action of a moment.  Needless to say, the painting cause quite a stir, but in this case a positive one, as Rembrandt's patrons were very impressed with his work.

Rembrandt was now an established artist.  In 1634, Rembrandt became a member of the Guild of St. Luke, a position which gained him more work, and the money he received from his various commissions for portraits and religious paintings allowed him to live the life of a wealthy man. he met the woman who was to be the love of his life,  Saskia van Uylenburgh, who was the daughter of the burgomaster of Leeuwarden in Friesland.  The two were married, and moved into their new home on the Nieuwe Doelenstraat, hoping to start a family.  Saskia also modeled for several of Rembrandt's paintings, and the way in which he portrayed her always echoed the love in his heart. 

In February of 1636, the couple's first born child, Rombartus, who was only a few weeks old, died.  The tragedy had a profound effect on Rembrandt, and while he and his wife were still very much in love, there were other troubles, such as many disputes between Saskia and her relatives over financial matters.  Two years later, the couple's newborn daughter Cornelia also dies, merely two weeks old.  Another two years pass, and another daughter is born, she too, suffers the same fate as the other children.  In 1641, Saskia gives birth to a son, Titus, who survives.  But in a cruel twist of fate, it is Saskia herself who dies in 1642, leaving Rembrandt in a hopelessly depressed state.  Rembrandt's life, like his art, is also fraught with contrast; for every bright moment, there seems to be an equally dark opposite, as if the artist were cursed into never living in peace.  It was also in 1942 that Rembrandt painted the most important work of his career, The Company of F.B. Cocq, or The Night Watch, as it is more widely known.

The Night Watch, which had been commissioned by F.B. Coq,  is not well received at all because it is too unconventional, and this only serves to add to Rembrandt's despair.  In need of a nurse to take care of his son, he hires  Geertge Dircx, who at first helps him take care of the household and his son, but who later stirs trouble when constant quarreling and jealousies arise following the hiring of a second woman, Hendrickje Stoffels, whom he falls in love with and plans to marry.  Dircx even took Rembrandt to court, on the grounds that he had promised to marry her, but Hendrickje testifies, and Geertge Dircx is sent to prison for her attempt at defrauding the court.  Stoffels later became Rembrandt's common-law wife, giving birth to their daughter Cornelia, which in light of all recent events signaled the advent of better days.

Over the years, Rembrandt had become accustomed to living comfortably, if not beyond his means, and the debts had been piling up.  Having become a teacher to supplement the household income did not help, and there were fewer requests for his work.  In 1556, Rembrandt is forced to obtain a 'Cessio Bonorum' from the High Court which allows him to declare bankruptcy, while maintaining his honor.  In order to make ends meet, Rembrandt has to sell many of his paintings, some furniture, until eventually, even the house is auctioned off.   In  1658, the family move to a smaller home where Hendrickje and Titus decide to protect Rembrandt's remaining and future canvasses from the creditors by starting their own art dealership, for which Rembrandt is only an employee, therefore not owning the works produced while in the company's service.

In 1663,  Hendrickje Stoffels dies. Rembrandt, who is no stranger to tragedy and hardship, continues painting.  The self portraits he creates during this dark period in his life only serve to remind us of the sadness and desperation in his heart.  Perhaps he wished to transfer his chagrin onto the canvases, as a form of exorcism; or are the portraits only a mirror held up by a man trying to look into his own soul for answers?

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