Rembrandt Van Rijn

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Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (July 15, 1606 � October 4, 1669) is generally considered one of the greatest painters in European art history and the most important in Dutch history.

Rembrandt was also a proficient printmaker and made many drawings. His contributions to art came in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age (roughly equivalent to the 17th century), in which Dutch culture, science, commerce, world power and political influence reached their pinnacles.

"No artist ever combined more delicate skill with more energy and power," states Chambers's Biographical Dictionary. "His treatment of mankind is full of human sympathy" (J.O. Thorne: 1962).


In all, Rembrandt produced around 600 paintings, 300 etchings, and 2,000 drawings. He was a prolific painter of self-portraits, producing almost a hundred of them (including some 20 etchings) throughout his long career. Together they give us a remarkably clear picture of the man, his looks, and � more importantly � his emotions, as misfortune and sorrow etched wrinkles in his face.

Among the prominent characteristics of his work are his use of chiaroscuro, often using stark contrasts, thus drawing the viewer into the painting; his dramatic and lively scenes, devoid of any rigid formality that contemporary artists often displayed; and his ostensibly deeply felt compassion for mankind, irrespective of wealth and age.

His immediate family � his wife Saskia, his son Titus, and his common-law wife Hendrickje � often figured prominently in his paintings, many of which had mythical, biblical, or historical themes.


Rembrandt was born on July 15, 1606 in Leiden, the Netherlands. Conflicting sources state that his family either had 7, 9 or 10 children. His family was quite well to do; his father being a miller, his mother a baker's daughter. As a boy he attended Latin school and was enrolled at the University of Leiden, although according to a contemporary he had more inclination towards painting. His parents gave in and he was apprenticed with a Leiden history painter, Jacob van Swanenburgh. After a brief but important apprenticeship with the famous painter Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens. In 1627, Rembrandt began to accept students, among them Gerard Dou.

By 1631, Rembrandt had established such a good reputation that he received several assignments for portraits from Amsterdam. As a result, he moved to that city and into the house of an art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburgh. This move eventually led, in 1634, to the marriage of Rembrandt and Hendrick's greatniece, Saskia van Uylenburg. This was obviously a marriage for love. Although she came from a good family (her father had been burgomaster of Leeuwarden), Saskia was an orphan and was probably not very wealthy. She lived with her sister in Frisia and did not have many "grand" connections in Amsterdam. These events, however, are widely disputed.

In 1639, Rembrandt and Saskia moved to a prominent house in the Jodenbreestraat in the Jewish quarter, which later became the Rembrandt House Museum. Although they were affluent the couple had several setbacks in their personal life. Three of their children died shortly after birth. Only their fourth child, a son, Titus, who was born in 1641, survived into adulthood. Saskia died in 1642 soon after Titus's birth, probably from tuberculosis.

After her death he began an affair with Titus's nurse, a widow called Geertje Dircx. This ended in a lawsuit. Geertje claimed that Rembrandt had broken his promise to marry her, and demanded that the council force him to marry her. The council did not go that far but Rembrandt was asked to pay her a large sum of money. He then cooperated with Geertje's family to have her locked up in a spinhuis (house of correction) in Gouda.

In the late 1640s, she was succeeded as Rembrandt's mistress by the much younger Hendrickje Stoffels, who initially had also been Rembrandt's maidservant. In 1654 they had a daughter, Cornelia, bringing Hendrickje an official reproach from the Reformed church for "living in sin." Rembrandt was not summoned to appear for the Church council because he was not a member of the Reformed church.

Rembrandt lived beyond his means, buying many art pieces and especially prints (often used in his paintings), and rarities, which probably caused his bankruptcy in 1656. He had to sell his house and move to a more modest accommodation on the Rozengracht. Here, Hendrickje and Titus started an art shop to make ends meet. However, Rembrandt's fame did not wane in these years, since he received an important commision for a large history piece for the newly built city hall.

Rembrandt outlived both Hendrickje and Titus. In the end, only his daughter Cornelia was at his side. The bereaving death of his much beloved son took heavy toll on Rembrandt and soon after that he died October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk.

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