Van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmenz
The Renowned Dutch Artistby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Women with dimpled fat, shabby beggars aged and wrinkly hags. He painted, printed and drew people as they were, not as he thought they should look. With such art, he astounded the Netherlands. It held what he expressed as “the deepest and most lifelike emotion…” The artist was Rembrandt and his art still is appreciated in the world today.
Entering the world on July 15, 1606 Rembrandt was the ninth child of a prominent couple, Harmen and Neeltje. Although his full name was Rembrandt Harmenz Van Rijn, later in life he merely went by “Rembrandt”. As a boy, he grew up in Leiden, a small town in Holland. Unlike his elder brothers who were educated up until the age of ten, Rembrandt was allowed to go on to Municipal Latin School from which his parents planned he would graduate at thirteen or fourteen. Then he would continue on to a university in order to obtain a job in the city government. Due to political events, his parents removed him in his last year at the Latin School. That finished his formal education.
A century before Rembrandt’s birth, the Catholics, who dominated politics,
were challenged by the Protestants (who included Calvinists, Lutherans and Mennonites).
Eighty years later the Calvinists replaced many Catholic political rulers in
Northern Netherlands. During Rembrandt’s schooling a revolution took place
in the Netherlands in which the strict Calvinists pushed Moderate Calvinists
and Catholics out of power. Although Rembrandt’s family was strict Calvinist
they had relatives who were not, which would make it difficult for Rembrandt
to gain political office. Discouraged by this fact, Rembrandt’s parents
took him out of school and sent him off to be an apprentice to a painter, by
the name of Jacob Isacsacz van Swanenburgh.
Unlike his school and home life, where there was the constant clamor of children, Swanenburgh was an elderly man living quietly alone with his wife. Rembrandt toiled daily assisting the painter with chores around the quiet studio. Swanenburgh taught Rembrandt to copy models such as stuffed animals and to glean inspiration from other art. After living as an apprentice with Swanenburgh for a few years, Rembrandt transferred over to a separate artist, Peter Lastman, to complete his training.
Lastman trained Rembrandt to paint still lifes, landscapes and portraits, but
he specialized in historical paintings such as Biblical scenes and mythology.
From Lastman, Rembrandt learned to portray scenes that came alive in your mind
through the use of color, setting, and objects. Many of the skills Rembrandt
learned under Lastman, later became an apparent trademark in his art.
After his apprenticeship drew to a close, Rembrandt and another artist, John Leivens, went into business as partners producing artwork for Leivens’ father to sell. At that time, Rembrandt and Leivens were gaining a reputation due to their superior art. By 1629 their reputation had spread to The Hague where they were working for the Prince of Orange.
Desiring prominence, the Prince of Orange decided to build a palace styled after Greek and Roman Architecture. For his assistant, the Prince chose his secretary Constantine Huygens. Huygens wanted to decorate the palace with art that would match the Greek and Roman style such as the art of Rubens, who he described as, “one of the wonders of the world”. Rubens’ art was unavailable due to political reasons. Seeking out the right artist, Huygens was astounded when he found Rembrandt and Leivens, later commenting, the “noble pair of Leiden youths” “captured for the Netherlands the prize of artistic excellence from Greece and Italy.” These artists possessed what Huygens valued: accurate observation, emotional power and the ability to make a model represent, in the viewer’s mind, all of humanity.
Soon they began accepting commissions from the Prince and his court. Huygens found the two artists difficult to work with due to what he described as, their being “carelessly content with themselves,” or their obstinacy to learn. The two soon gained more connections in the Prince’s court, yet Rembrandt had difficulty maintaining his connections because of his difficult personality. His self-confidence struck people as arrogance. Furthermore, his incapability to handle money well, his inability to express himself and his opinionated views on art did not supplement his success. Nevertheless he was doing exceptionally well, receiving six hundred guilders per painting. Realizing that if commissions stopped, he would not profit, Rembrandt left Leivens and moved from Leiden to Amsterdam in order to increase customers. This was a timely move because in 1633 his relationship with Huygens broke up and commissions from the Prince stopped.
In Amsterdam, Rembrandt’s career took a big leap. Amsterdam was a big business center where there was a high demand for art by Rembrandt and other artists such as Hendrick Uylenburgh whose studio was on the Breestraat (Broadway). In 1631, Rembrandt invested in Uylenburgh’s business and later moved in with him. Uylenburgh gave Rembrandt many commissions including a portrait of eight surgeons.
Back in Rembrandt’s day, any honorable Dutch man who belonged to a guild would have a portrait made of guild members to hang in the guildhall. A member of the Surgeons’ Guild commissioned Rembrandt to paint a portrait of guild members. Borrowing his poses from Rubens’ Christ and the Tribute Money, Rembrandt used the portrait to symbolize God’s wisdom depicted through the workings of the human body and dissection as a way of seeing the wisdom of God’s workings. When completed, the portrait titled the Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp, was hung in the guild’s hall and attracted more costumers to Rembrandt.
At the age of twenty seven, Rembrandt married Uylenbugh’s cousin, Saskia. During their short life together, Saskia delivered four babies, the first three dying within two months. However the fourth child survived and was named Titus. Tragically, Saskia died six months later due to the delivery.
During their marriage, Saskia and Rembrandt lived in rented rooms. Later they took out a massive loan, and purchased a large home a few doors down from the studio. With Rembrandt’s current income it would be simple to pay off the debt. Yet in 1642 his financial success began going downward. On June 14, when his wife died, she left all of her money to Titus who was only six months old. Later he lost much of the money and couldn’t pay the mortgage on his house.
With Saskia gone and a young child to take care of, Rembrandt’s life began to turn into a mess. The trouble started when he entered a love affair with Titus’ nursemaid, Geertge Dircx. At the time, he gave her some of his dead wife’s jewelry. A few years later, the relationship fell apart and Rembrandt moved on to another woman, Hendrickje Stoffels. Recognizing that the Uyleburghs might be angered by his carelessness with Saskia’s jewelry, he requested that Geertge give it back. But she refused and eventually took him to court. After going to court and loosing, he eventually conspired with Geertge’s brother to have Geertge put in a penal institution. Sadly, although he had the knowledge of right and wrong, Rembrandt lived for himself wasting much of his life and ruining others’.
During 1652, Rembrandt’s career took a turn for the worse. The Dutch Republic went to war, causing most people to have little money to spare. Many of the people, who had lent money to Rembrandt, now began demanding that he recompense them. Though he attempted to stall for time and he held an auction to generate money, the courts sold all of his possessions. Even after he was left penniless the debts weren’t paid. Hiding behind Hendrickje (who he was living with as his common law wife) and Titus for financial protection, Rembrandt became part of a firm in which the art he created became the firm’s. In this way he kept lenders from seizing his art.
When Rembrandt was fifty-seven and approaching the end of his life, Hendrickje died, leaving him a young daughter, Cornelia. Around that same time Titus married a woman named Magdalena Van Loo. Tragically, Titus died soon after their wedding, leaving Magdalena three months pregnant. Seven months after giving birth to Rembrandt’s only grandchild, Magdalena passed-away. Two weeks before, on October 4, 1669, Rembrandt had eternally departed.
At the time of his death his art was not esteemed. Many considered it crude. As one man expressed, Rembrandt preferred, “the humble, the rough, the decayed, the awkward and the heavy.” But, he strove to bring his art to life in your imagination allowing you to feel their energy and personality. Though viewers cannot celebrate his life, they can celebrate and enjoy his depictions of Biblical events and the lessons he portrayed in portraits such as The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicholas Tulp. Employing Rembrandt’s artwork, God shows all people that even the lowliest and ugliest of mankind are made in his image and have value in his sight. He takes the art of the disobedient to show the obedient that He is still The Master.
Mee, Charles. Rembrandt’ Portrait. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1988
Swartz, Gary. Rembrandt. New York City: Harry N. Abrams, 1992
Slive, Seymour. “Rembrandt”. World Book Encyclopedia. 1983 ed.