Rembrandt Harmenszohn van Rijn, the finest of the Dutch painters and one of the greatest artists of all time, was born in Leyden. He was the son of a prosperous miller.
After attending Latin school, young Rembrandt studied painting. He first studied in Leyden and then in Amsterdam under Peter Lastman, from whom he learned the technique of chiaroscuro - the dramatic use of light and shadow - as his teacher had learned it in Italy from Caravaggio. Rembrandt's first studio was in Leyden, but in 1631 he moved to Amsterdam where he remained permanently. He became so busy with commissions for portraits that he needed many assistants. His work divides fairly distinctly into three different periods. His early paintings are sharply drawn and painted in a varied palette that was to decrease in range and direct proposition to this growing interest in light and shadow. In the years between 1640 and 1660, Rembrandt's middle period, he had developed a darker style with color applied in thick blobs, quick lines or dabs, and thinner washes that merge into a harmonious glow, bursting from a dark background to create rich, shimmering, and uneven surface effect.
After 1660, Rembrandt's technique became even freer, possessing a jewel-like richness of color, and expressing intense emotion. Rembrandt was a supreme master in every form of painting: poetic landscapes; penetrating psychological portraits; religious and mythological works that reveal a personal approach to Christianity; theatrical or exotic subjects; and warm still lifes. He was a superb draughtsman and throughout his life produced drawings and copperplate etchings that are magical in line and feeling. His genius was recognized very early in Amsterdam, and he was soon very wealthy. But as the years advanced and his interest in religious subjects increased, Rembrandt lost sales and commissions. This, combined with the tragedy of his personal life, extravagant spending, and mismanagement of his funds, made the final years of his life very difficult ones, but Rembrandt would not pander to public taste and continued to paint as he wished until his death in 1669. His influence upon all art since his time is inestimable.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born on July 15th, 1606, in Leiden, the Netherlands. He was the ninth child born to Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsd van Zuytbroeck. His family was moderately wealthy, having a father as a miller, and a mother as a baker’s daughter. Rembrandt’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and learn a profession, but Rembrandt had different plans for his future.
Rembrandt spent 7 years as a student in the Latin school and was then enrolled at the University of Leiden. Rembrandt had a greater inclination towards painting and dropped out after only a few months. Not much later, Rembrandt was apprenticed to a Leiden painter for three years, Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh, who had studied in Italy.
In 1624 Rembrandt traveled to Amsterdam and was apprenticed to Pieter Lastman. Lastman was one of the most respected historical and Biblical painters of his day. He was able to tell a story with pictures and images in his paintings in a way that impressed young Rembrandt. His study under Lastman is probably the most valuable training the young artist received.
By 1625 Rembrandt returned to Leiden and opened a studio and worked closely in a partnership with friend and colleague, Jan Lievens, another student of Lastman’s. Along with his Biblical and Historical paintings he experimented with drawings, etchings, and emotional expressions on facial expressions. He also began a series of self-portraits that would continue throughout his life until just months before his death. Throughout his lifetime Rembrandt created an extraordinary number of self-portraits in painted, etched, and drawn media. He is also known to have painted his face into some of his history paintings. Some 80 self-portraits are known to survive today.
Rembrandt van Rijn started teaching his methods of painting to apprentice painters in 1627. One of his students was Gerrit Dou who went on to be quite the successful painter himself. In 1629, Rembrandt was introduced to Constantijn Huygens, who then introduced him to several important people. Of them, the most important was Prince Frederik Hendrik, who commissioned a number of paintings from Rembrandt until 1646.
Continue to Rembrandt Biography Middle Years.
Rembrandt van Rijn’s middle years were quite stressful. In 1631 or 1632 he relocated to Amsterdam where he quickly established himself as the chief portrait painter of the city. During the early years in Amsterdam Rembrandt stayed with art dealer, Hendrick Uylenburgh, who probably helped in his introduction as an artist to the city. Rembrandt married Uylenburgh’s cousin, Saskia van Uylenburge, who came from a wealthy family, having a father who had been a lawyer and mayor. None of Rembrandt’s relatives were present at the wedding, but his marriage to Saskia seemed to be the turning point in his life.
In 1632, his painting Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, a group portrait which gained him much acclaim and established his reputation. He was commissioned to paint portraits for many of the city’s wealthy residents. His studio was full of pupils including Jacob Backer, Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, and eventually Carel Fabritius, and Nicholas Maes. It was also about this time that he began to sign his works using only his forename, Rembrandt, as he is most popularly known today.
With his wealth Rembrandt began collecting art that he would study and costumes that he would use in his paintings. In 1635 Rembrandt and his new wife Saskia moved into their own house in the fashionable Nieuwe Doelenstraat. While in their new home he began his Old Testament and mythological paintings. He would use his Jewish neighbors as his models. He used the richness and energy of Baroque movements with rich colors. The Sacrifice of Abraham and The Blinding of Samson are examples of his dramatic works during this time.
In 1639, when he was 33, financial difficulties began. The couple moved to a more sophisticated house (which is now the Rembrandt House Museum) in Jodenbreestraat. His large income should have allowed the two to live quite easily in the prominent household, not having to worry about financing the mortgage, but his spending habits kept up with the generous income. It is also suggested that he may have made some unwise investments that helped break his income.
In 1642, his model and wife, Saskia died of tuberculosis. Three of their four children had died in infancy and now Rembrandt was left with his only surviving child, Titus, who later became his favorite subject to paint. Geertge Dircks, was hired during Saskia’s sickness as his son’s nurse and eventually became Rembrandt’s lover. In the late 1640s a relationship developed with the young, Hendrickje Stoffels, a maid of Rembrandt’s, who later bore him a daughter named Cornelia. Rembrandt never married Stoffels though the two were considered legally wed by common law.
The same year as his wife’s death Rembrandt painted the work that is commonly referred to as The Night Watch. The painting reflects much color, movement and light as it depicts a group portrait with many individual figures yet interest falls on the entire group sacrificing individual identities. Around this time the commissions of portraits began to die off and he focused more on his etching, which he taught himself how to do.
Continue to Rembrandt Biography Late Years.
Rembrandt’s lifestyle of spending money as he got it, and in some cases, money he didn’t have, caught up with him. Adding to his financial difficulties was an economic slowdown due to the Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-1654. He eventually had to declare bankruptcy in 1956 and the court sold off many of his paintings and collectables which included ancient sculpture, Italian Renaissance paintings, Eastern art, and Dutch weaponry and armor. To Rembrandt’s dismay, the painting-filled auction was a disappointing failure. He sold his house and moved to a more modest home on the Rozengracht.
Rembrandt continued to paint self-portraits and Biblical scenes which he now painted more as portraits. He used lively brushstrokes and a new lighting technique. The commissions Rembrandt received in his later years were not all well received. Many Dutch patrons were turning their sites to more Classicistic paintings while Rembrandt was moving in a different direction with bold colors and reflective subjects. Some of Rembrandt’s masterpieces during this time include Bathsheba (1654), Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1656), The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1661) and The Jewish Bride (1665).
Unfortunately, his life went downhill from any up-rise of painting success, Hendrickje died in 1663, and his 27 year-old son, Titus, in 1668. Eleven months later, on October 4th, 1669, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam and was buried in an unmarked grave.