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Grade 8 English
3.9 Rembrandt van Rijn

Dutch - b. Leiden 15 July 1606; d. Amsterdam 4 October 1669

Rembrandt was born in Leiden, a provincial university town in Holland. As a teenager, he attended The Latin School learning Latin, Greek, Classical literature and history before abandoning formal study to become an apprentice artist in the Leiden studio of Jacob van Swanenburgh.

Rembrandt quickly developed as an artist and by the age of twenty six was considered the finest painter in Leiden. To further his career Rembrandt moved permanently to the more cosmopolitan capital, Amsterdam in 1632. There he worked for the dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, mainly producing portraits of the wealthy middle class patrons of Amsterdam. Rembrandt quickly achieved success, keeping an uncommonly large studio for the time and employing many apprentices and assistants, some of whom became masters in their own right. In 1634 he married Uylenburgh's niece Saskia and in 1639 purchased one of the largest mansions on the fashionable Breestraat, all the while acquiring a large and wide ranging art collection.

By the 1640s Rembrandt was one of the leading artists in Amsterdam, gaining commissions for large portrait paintings such as the famous Nightwatch 1642, and the occasional history painting. Perhaps it was the university training and a desire to emulate the great Italian artists such as Raphael and Titian that made Rembrandt yearn to be a painter of religious and mythological subjects. However it is portraiture for which he is best known and portraits form the majority of the approximately 300 paintings ascribed to his hand.

Just as quickly as Rembrandt achieved success, so too he suffered a personal and professional decline. Between 1635 and 1640 three of the couples' four children died shortly after birth and Saskia also died in 1642. Many argue that these tragic events profoundly affected Rembrandt's emotional state. By the mid 1650s a severe downturn in the Dutch economy had a damaging affect on the art market. Taste in Holland also shifted away from Rembrandt's dark, sombre paintings to artists who used a lighter palette and brighter tones. Ironically, some of Rembrandt's pupils were able to adapt to the fashion and prosper.

Rembrandt was much admired by connoisseurs in his lifetime and even towards the end of his life he maintained an incomparable technique and outstanding artistic powers, however toward the end of his life commissions and patronage virtually dried up and by 1656 Rembrandt was declared bankrupt, leading a poor existence until dying in poverty in 1669.

Despite the downturn in his personal fortunes, Rembrandt's status in art history as one of the greatest artists has never waned. He mastered all genres of painting, executing some of the finest portraits and landscapes in art history and his reputation as a printmaker has not diminished with time.

Rembrandt As Printmaker

Rembrandt was born in 1606 in Leiden, where he began his artistic education as an apprentice to Jacob van Swanenburgh. He completed his formal training with the Amsterdam history painter, Pieter Lastman and shifted permanently to Amsterdam around 1631. Here he first made his name as a portrait painter. His earliest etchings were made in Leiden in the mid 1620s and his first dated print comes from 1628. By the time of his death in 1669 Rembrandt had completed over 300 etchings, covering a great range of subject matter and, in the process, had redefined the possibilities of the medium, and established creative and technical standards that are used as a measure to this day.


Q 1: What may have driven Rembrandt to paint religious and mythological paintings?
He studied the occult.
His college education and his admiration of Italian artists.
It brought in more money.
He wanted to be more famous.

Q 2: What is an apprentice?
One who is learning a trade or occupation.
One who is struggling.
One who is college.
One who travels the world.

Q 3: While Rembrandt is best known as a painter, what else did he excel at?

Q 4: Though he dabbled in different paintings subjects, what type is he most famous for?
Religious and mythological subjects.
Still Lifes.

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