The 10 Most Famous Artworks of Rembrandt
This includes The Night Watch, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Self-Portrait with Two Circles...
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669), usually simply known as Rembrandt, was a Dutch Golden Age painter, printmaker and draughtsman. He is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history. Unlike most Dutch masters of the 17th century, Rembrandt’s works depict a wide range of style and subject matter, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, and biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies. Like many artists of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Jan Vermeer of Delft, Rembrandt was also an avid art collector and dealer.
His etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters.
niood lists the 10 Most Famous Artworks of Rembrandt:
Periods: Baroque, Dutch Golden Age
The painting is famous for three things: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the dramatic use of light and shadow (tenebrism) and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military group portrait. The painting was completed in 1642, at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts the eponymous company moving out, led by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (dressed in black, with a red sash) and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch (dressed in yellow, with a white sash). With effective use of sunlight and shade, Rembrandt leads the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd: the two men in the center (from whom the painting gets its original title), and the woman in the centre-left background carrying a chicken. Behind them, the company’s colors are carried by the ensign, Jan Visscher Cornelissen. The figures are almost life-size.
Location: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (until 1990)
Period: Dutch Golden Age
It was previously in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston but was stolen in 1990 and remains missing. The painting depicts the biblical story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, specifically as it is described in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It is Rembrandt’s only seascape.
Location: Kenwood House
Year: c. 1665–1669
Unlike many of his earlier self-portraits, in which Rembrandt depicted himself artificially posed or acting out a part in an elaborate costume, Self-Portrait with Two Circles shows him simply as a painter in his studio. He is plainly dressed in working clothes with a fur-lined tabard, traditionally worn by painters since the 16th century, along with a simple white linen cap. In his left hand he holds the tools of his trade – a wooden palette, brushes, and a long mahlstick, a tool used as a rest to steady his hand while painting. To the right can be seen the edge of the canvas on which he is working. Rather than showing himself in the act of painting, Rembrandt stares directly at us, with one hand on his hip.
The two enigmatic circles in the background, from which the painting takes its name, have fascinated and perplexed viewers and scholars for generations. There are many theories surrounding the meaning of the circles. One is that they are mystical symbols representing the perfection of God, while another suggests they are symbols of theory and practice, with Rembrandt himself as the link between thought and execution. There is also the theory that the circles reflect a double-hemisphere world map – a map that depicts the eastern and western hemispheres as two globes. Others believe they were simply added to balance the off-centre composition.
Periods: Baroque, Dutch Golden Age
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive group portraits. The painting was made in 1632, shortly after the artist’s move from the town of Leiden to Amsterdam. The surgeons’ prestigious commission provided a unique opportunity to become known among art-lovers’ circles in Amsterdam, and the painter did not allow this chance to pass. The painting firmly established Rembrandt’s name as a portraitist.
Anatomy demonstrations were held in Amsterdam from 1555 onwards. They were organised by the surgeons’ guild and in Rembrandt’s day they were held in an anatomy theatre in De Waag, Amsterdam’s weighing house. The praelector or overseer of the guild would lecture, while the public – anatomy students and laypeople alike – could watch for a fee. Anatomy lessons might last for days: the abdominal cavity and the perishable bowels would be dissected first, followed by the head and limbs. To minimise the stench, the classes were taught in the cold winter months.
Location: Louvre Museum
A depiction that is both sensual and empathetic, it shows a moment from the Old Testament story in which King David sees Bathsheba bathing and, entranced, seduces and impregnates her. In order to marry Bathsheba and conceal his sin, David sends her husband into battle and orders his generals to abandon him, leaving him to certain death.
While the scene of David spying on Bathsheba had been painted by earlier artists, Rembrandt’s depiction differs in its tight pictorial focus and erotic vitality, achieved through broad, thick brushstrokes and vibrant coloration.
Location: State Hermitage Museum
Genre: History painting
Danaë is a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt, first painted in 1636, but later extensively reworked by Rembrandt, probably in the 1640s, and perhaps before 1643.
It is a life-sized depiction of the character Danaë from Greek mythology, the mother of Perseus. She is presumably depicted as welcoming Zeus, who impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold. Given that this is one of Rembrandt’s most magnificent paintings, it is not out of the question that he cherished it, but it also may have been difficult to sell because of its eight-by-ten-foot size.
Periods: Baroque, Dutch Golden Age
The painting follows Tacitus‘s Histories in depicting an episode from the Batavian rebellion (69–70 AD), led by the one-eyed chieftain Claudius Civilis (actually called Gaius Julius Civilis by Tacitus, though but once, Claudius Civilis has since become entrenched in art history), in which he “collected at one of the sacred groves, ostensibly for a banquet, the chiefs of the nation and the boldest spirits of the lower class”, convinced them to join his rebellion, and then “bound the whole assembly with barbarous rites and strange forms of oath.”
Movement: Baroque painting, Dutch Golden Age painting
Location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The men (with the exception of Bel who is an attendant as indicated by his calotte) are drapers who were elected to assess the quality of cloth that weavers offered for sale to members of their guild. Their one-year terms in office began on Good Friday and they were expected to conduct their inspections thrice weekly. The Dutch word staal means ‘sample’ and refers to the samples of cloth that were assessed. The inspectors used pliers to press the seals of their city (front) and guild (reverse) into penny-sized slugs of lead that were specially affixed to record the results of the inspection. There were four grades of quality, the highest was indicated by pressing four seals and the lowest by pressing only one.
It is among the Dutch master’s final works, likely completed within two years of his death in 1669. Depicting the moment of the prodigal son’s return to his father in the Biblical parable, it is a renowned work described by art historian Kenneth Clark as “a picture which those who have seen the original in St. Petersburg may be forgiven for claiming as the greatest picture ever painted”.
Location: Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel, Hesse, Germany
Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph shows a scene from the Old Testament book of Genesis, Chapter 48. In this scene, Joseph brings his two sons (Manasseh and Ephraim) to his dying father Jacob so that they can receive the family blessing. According to tradition, the eldest son is blessed with the patriarch’s right hand. However, Jacob deliberately crossed his arms and put his right hand on Ephraim’s (the younger son’s) head and his left hand on Manasseh’s (the oldest son’s) head. Joseph was displeased and thought that his father was making a mistake. When Joseph tried to correct his father, Jacob refused and told Joseph that he was purposefully blessing the younger son.