Rembrandt. Digital Montage of photoreproductions of: self-portrait(1628) and Artist in Studio(1629)

Art Prose Rhyme

Mushtaq Bhat


The Man & The Artist

  Rembrandt & The Netherlands

Rembrandt: self-portrait (etching _ 1939)
2. Rembrandt And The Netherlands

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

(15 July 1606 - 4 October 1669 A.D.)

The Man & The Artist

The Place

Rembrandt. Etching:Amsterdam.(1640)

View of Amsterdam 1640
Etching 112 x 153 mm.

Under the government of the Stadholder Prince Maurits and later Prince Fredrick Henry, who through Constantijn Huygens, commissioned a number of works of Rembrandt, Amsterdam was rapidly gaining on prestige and importance on a global scale. This is where Rembrandt came to work as a genial artist and invest as a rather naive bussinessman, and where he would later buy a house in the Breestraat or Jodenbreestraat (i.e. Jewish Broadway), a predominantly from rich merchants and Iberian Jews inhabited area. The City enjoyed a till then unknown and for the following decades an exemplary freedom and religious tolerance and consequently flourished to such an extent, that it could rival any European metropolis.

Hornhorst. Painting of Prince Fredrik Hendrik (1631)

Prince Fredrik Hendrick 16402
Gerard van Hornhorst
oil on canvas (77x61cm.)

This inevitably accelerated the growth of an already dynamically increasing population with, for their religious beliefs or ethnicity or their social success politically prosecuted and tortured fugitives of a turbulent decade, wage workers, students, poets, artists, merchants, traders and seamen from all corners of Europe rushing in to this emerging star on the continent. Here the horizon seemed to extend beyond the confines of a dense and constrained Europe, beckoning with new promises that maritime discoveries were bringing within the reach of the disenfranchised and those with entrepreneurial or adventurous bent of mind. It was a new kind of freedom, freedom not only from the foreign dominance and suppression but from a past whose norms and styles and modes had suddenly turned redundant!

Jan Lievens: Portrait of Constantijn Hygens (c.1628)

Constantijn Hygens c.16282
Jan Lievens
Wood (90x84cm.)

Apart from a strong suspicion of Catholicism due to historical reasons, the city seems to have shown a benign tolerance of all religious denominations. And the Dutch were becoming a colonial power, the East India Company would have a flourishing trade and Amsterdam became the Wall street of the decades. Only a few years before Rembrandts shifting to Amsterdam, the Dutch had brought Manhattan from the Wappinger Confederacy, to establish the new Amsterdam Colony. Just like their congenial pragmatic, practical and utilitarian English neighbors across the channel, who were equally reluctant to indulge themselves into continental broody introspective reflections, the Dutch were more than receptive for the change in times. No wonder that in these two countries, the roots of that gigantic tree, the new mercantile system would propagate themselves with an unprecedented and an almost lightening speed through the fertile and receptive streets and shops of the cities, the towns and the harbors, sprouting its branches in almost all phases of life, including those associated with art. It gave birth to a new art scene, thanks to an increase in the surplus of those, who had till then witnessed and probably associated great art only with religious altars or noble residences of the dukes and the royalty. Rembrandt, seems to have had an open attitude to the mercantile Geist of the city, and as a businessman, he may even have later invested much of his by no means insignificant fortune in trade, including probably in the East India Company. But he was no shrewd businessman. In his investment he seems to have suffered only losses. He probably paid considerably more for what he purchased for his encyclopedic collection, than he would ever get from it on reselling after his bankruptcy. He seems sometimes to have indeed asked for exorbitant prices for his own works, at times even exceeding those of at-the-time universally acclaimed masters of their epoch like Rubens and Van Dyck. But he was no clever seller and in reality could not handle money well. The amount of money he got through the auction of all of his wealth (especially his encyclopedic collection) as he declared himself bankrupt, was apparently deliberately, artificially, brazenly and cold heartedly kept at the lowest denomination through an agreement amongst the shrewd bidders and some creditors. Rembrandt was obviously no match for them. He certainly was not cold calculated person or a shrewd businessman as some people have claimed, otherwise he would have never had to break his daughters saving-box in order to purchase food and that too at an at an advanced age, when his works were being copied and collected in foreign lands and trading hands at very high prices, or when some artists may have been selling fake Rembrandts and making money! True he may have introduced some characteristically artistic with-and-without-stove marketing gimmicks into the art trade, exhibited a whimsical and sometimes not necessarily flexible character, but he has nevertheless achieved almost the impossible, a consistent, for some a stubborn, allegiance to his own individual Weltanschaung and yet he experimented, sought new ways, new methods and most of all new meanings for what life was teaching him and remained that way open to any new influences till the end of his life. Most of his wealth seems to have gone into his encyclopedic collection, which was not just only a conformation to a prevalent prestige system but probably acquired as resources, as potential sources for the further development of his art.

Rembrandt & Saskia.
Rembrandt and Saskia. Allegory of The Prodigal Son in a Tavern

Canvas 161 x 131 cm.
Gemäldegallerie, Dresden

Rembrandt. Allegory of the Prodigal Son (c.166-38)

Legends depicting a Bohemian Rembrandt or some one prone to excessive indulgences have been conclusively proven to be off the mark by recent dedicated research concerning his life and work. In fact the rather romantic notion of a lonely, misunderstood and outside-the-establishment genius-artist that seems to have evolved in following century and persisted almost into the modern times may have had to some extent roots in these very legends. As Tümpel has acutely observed, the buying of a house within a community of rich gentile merchants and socially successful Jews seem to exhibit a striving to move upward in the social hierarchy rather than any rebellious attitude toward the values of the upper classes or the predominant prestige-system.
Nevertheless the rapid success at the beginning of his career in Amsterdam, might have momentarily lead to small trespasses or a mild form of hybris. He was after all very young and might have willingly if not totally given himself into the seductive allures of this great city and no less alluring times, no doubt the rapid increase in wealth in the hands of an inexperienced youth contributing favorably in that direction. But these indulgences seem to have been short lived, as the portraits of his and Saskia, playing upon the biblical lost-son thematic reveal, and were probably soon to be replaced with a sober attitude that does not confuse freedom with frivolity. His later life is the proof of this sophistication, independence instead of compliance, no submission and no regrets but a consistent allegiance to the chosen episteme of his life, that has carved him an eternal place within the pantheon of the greats of human history.

But the phenomenon Rembrandt nevertheless, as has been often stated, defies any sharp categorizations, more so in our century, when some of the works attributed to the master, have turned out to be conclusively from unknown hands or his students. Nevertheless it can be emphatically stated, that the phenomenon Rembrandt is unique and has had hardly any parallels in Netherlands and anywhere in Europe.

It seems however that Rembrandt was almost 150 years ahead of his time! With the reintroduction of the Classicism, the success and the spread of the French Classicism, and the gradual ending of the chiaroscuro into the cul-de-sac of art history (the fate of all schools, by the way), the cry for a reintroduction of the academic standards and values and ideals inherited from great Masters like Raphael and Michelangelo and a general striving towards more technical perfection, that the advent of photography later however would make redundant, it seems that Rembrandt occupied a increasingly ambiguous position in the European art history in the subsequently following first few decades, some of whose most dominant critics did not hide their disdain for so called colorists.

Rembrandt. Etching. Rat Poison Peddler  (1630)

A Hawker selling Rat Poison 1630
Etching 140 x 124 mm.

Despite or better in spite of it Rembrandts works would fetch high prices, enter into the collections of many lovers of art and would be copied in more than a few countries. No doubt the rather dubious legends revolving around Rembrandt, and especially the critic of Arnold Houbraken and Joachim von Sandrart, both of whom probably grudgingly admired his work but nevertheless seemed to have felt it necessary to defend the predominant classical academic values, the epitomes of the antique, which Rembrandt seems to have challenged like no other, may have also contributed toward this ambiguity. Nevertheless, ironically Rembrandts works were spread through out Europe, admired, bought and copied by many, whereas the works of his critics, like Sandrart, were hardly known.

However with the coming of age of the middle class (the Reform Act in Great Britain in 1832 extends the vote to middle class!), the invention of Photography by the French painter Daguerre (1839), that would lame and weaken the justification for the disparaging and almost venomous critic directed at Rembrandt by the pedantic draughtsman-artist like Bruyhls and last but not least with the blooming of romanticism during the late 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century and the extraordinarily favorable and explicitly eulogizing reception accorded to the works of Rembrandt by the artists, intellectuals, poets, especially Goethe, and the unbiased scholars of the period, would all lead to reevaluation of Rembrandt and his legacy. Ever since then Rembrandt has attained an eternal and an unique iconic place in European art history, unchallenged by vagaries of time, the subjective appreciations of the art critics or historical reinterpretations of art in the following centuries. Unlike the forgoing Dutch baroque and the latter genre art masters, who may occasionally exchange their status of stardom within their respective pantheons, Rembrandts position at the top has remained undisputed since then.

There are some solid reasons behind this phenomenon, besides this one great fact, that you are not witnessing here some vogue conceptualizations but fully accomplished achievements of a sophisticated and from the very beginning of his career, a ripened personality, that had evolved through a very dynamic interaction with the emergent mercantile system, and importantly without any disloyalty to its reformed Christian, Calvinistic and humanistic fundaments, unfortunately overlooked in the later centuries, especially our own. Like probably no other master of the times, he had apparently tasted both its sugar and salt to full, tasted the chilies and pepper from the exotic lands that his native city may have offered. Maybe in his old age much of it may have tasted like distilled water. Without doubt Rembrandt seems to have drunk the cup of life to its dregs and tasted both great success and severe failure, enjoyed the trust of the human-beings and suffered the breach of faith under their hands, and been through all the promises and illusions that this new epoch had to offer. Despite his consistently deteriorating fortunes towards the end of his life, and the early deaths of his wife and all except one of his children, Rembrandt has shown only more sophistication in his personal growth and his work. At his zenith, Rembrandt never wallowed in compliance and at his nadir, he did not submerge himself into resignation. No instead you have more of that sophisticated man and artist and almost modern-appearing urban observer of the drama of life and its glitter, illusions and delusions, however consistently confronting us with his greatest legacy to mankind, his empathetic rendering of life's tribulations and those caught in its throes. A mirror for those who care!

Jesus Preaching. (La Petite Tombe) 1652
Etching. 207 x 156 mm.

Rembrandt:La Tombe (Etching 1652)

Almost all of Rembrandts works are dedicatedly executed and visually perfect materialized ideas or in Goethe's words thinking _ expressing an individual artists inherently unique vision. A vision that could probably only reveal itself in an atmosphere of unfettered free thinking within for-the-times the least censored Protestantism of Netherlands, that inevitably followed the successful resistance of this small country against the Spanish invasion. And what a freedom! And what a vision!

Digital Manipulated Photo-reproduction of two artworks of Rembrandt: Saskia Bathing (1654) & Self Portrait (c.1628) Digital Manipulated Photo-reproductions of two artworks of Rembrandt:Saskia Bathing (1654) & Self-Portrait (c.1628).
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  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.

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And The Reformed Expressions

Rembrandt: Portrait of Saskia in red hat(c.1632-1642)

Saskia as a fashionable Lady in a Red Hat
Gemäldegallerie Altemeister, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Kassel, Germany.

Rembrandt:Portrait Maria Trip (1639)

Portrait of Maria Trip (1619-1683)
Panel 107x82cm.
Rijkmuseum Amsterdam.

Rembrandt:Portrait of a Woman (c.1632)

Portrait of a Woman
92 x 71 cm.
Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, Vienna.

Rembrandt:Portrait of a man in costume (c.1652-54)

Portrait of a Man in Costume
c. 1652-1654
108 x 86 cm.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Rembrandt: Woman with a fan (1632)

Portrait of a bejewelled Lady with a fan
National Museum, Stockholm.

Rembrandt: Girl on a window sill (1645)

Portrait of a Girl
816 x 610 cm.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Rembrandt: the syndics(1663)

The Syndics
Officials of the Draper's Guild, Amsterdam

Canvas 191,5 x 27,9 cm.
Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam.

Rembrandt: The Night Watch (1642)

The Night Watch
The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq
Canvas 363 x 437
Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt: Portrait of Anslo and Schouten (1641)

Portrait of the Menonite Minister Cornelius Claez Anslo and his wife Aeltje Gerritsdr Schoueten
Canvas 176 x 210cm.
Germaldegalerie, Staaliche Museen zu Berlin, Pressischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

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