Drawing of Saskia by Rembrandt.1633

The Rembrandtian Epoch

1. The Epoch

Rembrandt: Jan Rijksen and Griet Jans (1633)

Portrait of the shipping magnate and engineer
Jan Rijcksen and his wife Griet Jans 1633
Canvas 168,9 x 114,3 cm.
Buckingham Palace, London

With Rembrandt the student of the European art history is suddenly confronted with a cascade of some intrinsically original works of art, most of them unambiguously expressed, fully developed and paradoxically almost without precedents. Unequivocally almost all of his works, declare an already matured, dedicatedly accomplished and thereby materialized facts of a new epoch. Facts that reflect simultaneously the first true urban sophistication of an individual and an artist within the folds of the new economy, the emerging mercantile system and an honest specifically personal integration of, and thereby an emancipation from, the legacy of the classical antique. They do not reflect any torturous artistic seeking or groping in darkness for sake of some tangible newness for its own sake, nor do they exhibit any half-developed stilistic strivings or some hazy emergent nuances. Furthermore they do not display any deliberate adaptations to prevalent norms but instead reveal the material rendering of a fully developed personal episteme, the fruits of an already culminated personal individuation, whose birth, development, and maturation is consistently streamlined and crystallized into a tapestry of unanimously unique expressions.

Rembrandt. Etching. Self-portrait as a beggar.(1630)

Rembrandt as a beggar 1630
Etching 116 x 69 mm.

There are no prominently discernible intermediate stages of transformations proceeding his accomplishments, no not even a master of ceremonies to announce his subtle appearance on the stage of European or for that matter worlds art scene. The influence of his teachers probably did express itself at the beginning, but was no sooner rendered than forgotten and left far behind. Tümpel2 however attributes Rembrandts penchant for small formats and his intense occupation with facial mimic and his highlighting of the substantial and leaving the secondary in darkness to the influence of Swanenburgh's (his teacher for 3 years), whose art usually depicted fantastic scenes of hell and witches and Italian cityscapes, done on very small formatted canvasses. Of course it was probably mainly through his teachers, especially Pieter Lastman, who had been to Italy and had apparently been influenced by the art scenes in Venice, Florence and Naples, that Rembrandt inherited the legacy of antique and Italian Renaissance, including the paradigms of then current fashionable schools of art, which were probably resonating with vibrations emanating from Titian and Caravaggio, the Spanish Velasquez, and from the famous and to Rembrandt geopolitically and culturally more allied Flemish baroque master Rubens. No doubt Caravaggio and Velasquez had already placed much of the allegorical and heavenly subject matter of classic and renaissance on a terrestrial pedestal, and perhaps subtly turned the latently still extant notion of divine kingship overhead. No doubt also that the Dutch would later almost fully ignore much of the established and formalized ideals inherited from former times and almost everything grandiose, papal or overtly aristocratic but instead exchange all that against a semi-moralistic Calvinistic and humanistic nonetheless utterly earthly idyll and ideals.

Rembrandt. Etching. Three Beggars.(1648)

Three Beggars 1648
Etching 164 x 129 mm.

It was this contemporary scenic depiction of their own perceived and unmediated world and their own times, that would appeal to their down-to-earth pragmatic natures and thereby pave the way for probably the first mass production of original art, where the buyers were not confined to any select classes. From shop-keepers to Merchants, people would buy original art. And the gradually increasing wealth amongst the population would favor an unprecedented growth amongst others of the Portraitists, like Michiel van Miereveld, who allegedly sold 10.000 portraits3 in his life! Apparently the artist were just too happy to oblige. Demand and Supply. Whole schools and studios of landscape and genre painting sprouted throughout the Netherlands. Although that way, Rembrandts achievements, are not completely ground breaking, he would nonetheless transform the Velasquezian earthliness to a more humane and participatory depiction. Likewise he did not abandon the allegorical, the symbolical, the biblical and the historical, but transformed their character in a uniquely Rembrandtesque manner, Here he was a minimalist, he streamlined the most relevant attributes, that the circumstantial actions and contingent events, depicted in his historical, mythical and biblical scenes traditionally demanded, sometimes even completely ignoring them, so as to focus the viewers attention to a single phenomenological happening. And this he did, in probably one of the most genial ways and seems to have defended his episteme here with great vigor, adamantly unwilling to make any compromises.

Rembrandt: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp (1632)

The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp 1632
Canvas 169.5,9x216.5 cm.
Mauritshuis, The Hague

Doubtlessly the almost invariably consistent, and unfortunately for many of his critics the most prominent eye-catching characteristics of his works is the chiaroscuro rendering of the scenes depicted on his canvasses, wherein the light and darkness are raised to their extreme tonality in order to increase the contrast and highlight the motive, a methodology that had attained an academic acceptance, even if not a great respectability in the more technically oriented schools and private studios and that had gained an admiration and eulogies from the critics of Caravaggio and which subsequently the later masters, like La Tour, methodically developed to a stylistic and technical perfection. This "indulgence" of Rembrandt has contributed toward a rather lopsided appreciation of his true worth as a visual prophet of the new age. The more profound influence here that, according to my opinion, needs a re-appreciation, is that of Calvinism. Hidden behind the expressive force of his artwork is nothing less than the epochal resonance prevalent in Netherlands in his time, especially predominant amongst the newly emerging middle class, the humanism of Erasmus von Rotterdam, that functionally served as the new moral "real-politick" oriented ideal for the Calvinists. In fact Rembrandt underwent the prescribed credo, 7 years of play, 7 years of Latin School and 7 (albeit not completed) years of University _ both at Leyden. The very same city and almost the same times, wherein the English Puritans, the Pilgrim Fathers had found a refuge and would now sail on the Mayflower to New England (1620), as the 14 year old Rembrandt would be admitted to the University. Founded in 1575, the University of Leyden was probably one of the most cherished universities of the times, daringly trying to wrest away the Italian dominance from the human sciences and arts, it was the dream of many an aspiring savants of the times in Europe. However it is possible that he may have got himself enrolled in compliance with his mother's wishes or for some pragmatic reasons, since it offered a student certain significant privileges. Calvinism, though not a state religion, however was vigorously propounded at the Latin school and the University. This may have influenced the humanistic liberalism in Rembrandts attitude to life and work. In fact, it was this trait in the liberal Calvinism, that allowed for the fact, that the parents of Rembrandt (who both had got themselves converted to Calvinism and got married in the reformed church Pieterskerk at Leyden) would entrust their son into the hands of Jacob Isaacz van Swanenburgh _ a member of the renowned and respected family of Catholics in the city of Leyden with apparently strong ties to catholic Italy, which doubtlessly contributed toward a more cosmopolitan and tolerant outlook in his life. Although under Maurits it seemed many of influential Catholics in public offices lost their jobs, and where probably watched with mistrust, they were not mistreated, a far cry from the treatment of minorities, Protestants and Jews in catholic countries of the time, especially Spain, many of whose fugitive Jews found a home in Calvinistic Netherlands.

Digital manipulated photo of the painting of Rembrandt: The Artist in his Studio. Digital Manipulated Photoreproduction of the artwork:
An Artist in his Studio
by Rembrandt.
studio icon


  1. The Rembrandtian Epoch >>
  2. Rembrandt & The Netherlands >>
  3. Rembrandtian Credo _ With & Without Stove >>
  4. Rembrandt The Man >>


Main Sources
Image sources, when not indicated otherwise : URL1
URL1 website Rembrandt from Jonathan Jansen.
2Rembrandt: Dargestellt von Christian Tümpel; Rowohlts Velag GmbH. 1977, pp. 15,16. (see also Foreword )
3Walter Wallace:The Legend and The Man, New York, 1968, pp. 17-25. Cited at URL1

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And The Expressions
Rembrandt: Simon with Jesus (1669)

In Bliss
The Holy Family. Simon with Jesus in arms. c.1669
88 x 79 cm
National Museum Stockholm

Rembrandt: Judas repentant returning the silver coins (1630)

Judas Repentant
Judas repentant returning the silver coins 1630
Wood 76 x 101 cm.
Normanby Collection,Yorkshire,UK.

Rembrandt: Jeramiah Lamenting destruction of Jerusalem (1629)

Jeremiah Lamenting
Jeramiah lamenting the destruction of Jeruselem 1629
Wood 58.3 x 46.6 cm.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Rembrandt: Saul listening to David playing the Harp (c.1629)

Saul Attentive
David playing the harp for Saul c.1629
Wood 61.8 x 50.2 cm.
St├Ądtisches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.

Rembrandt: A woman praying (c.1629-30)

Old Age Praying
Woman (Mother?) Prayiing  c.c.1629-30
Landessammlungen Residenzgalerie Salzburg, Austria

Rembrandt: Scholar Reading (1631)

Scholar Engrossed
Scholar Reading c.1631
Wood 60 x 48 cm
National Museum Stockholm

Rembrandt: Artist in his studio (c.1629)

Artist Appraising
Artist in his Studio c.1629
Wood 25.1 x 31.9 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston

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