Rembrandt was one of the most prolific and influential artists and printmakers in European art history. His influence on the development of painting was unparalleled until the arrival of Picasso. Many Rembrandt prints are considered priceless treasures as most have survived over 400 years and were inherited through many generations. In 1906, Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden (in what is now the Netherlands). He is one of the most famous artists to come out of the Dutch Golden Age. He was a child prodigy in the fine arts world. Rembrandt never left his native Holland. Unlike other masters, he never studied art in another country. He did, however, engage with a lot of art from the world around him. This was possible because, during his lifetime, Amsterdam became a powerful port for trade in Europe. His artistic career spanned over fifty years, and he created an impressive 350 paintings, around 300 etchings, and over 100 drawings.
Rembrandt’s contributions to art have historians associating him with the Dutch Golden Age, a time in history that saw the Netherlands boom in terms of science, trade, art, and military prowess. Rembrandt, now considered a Dutch master, wasn’t interested in painting the ideal, as his contemporaries and the Italian Renaissance tradition had done. Instead, Rembrandt chose to paint wrinkles, cellulite, and the poor—painting them truly as he saw them in the flesh. This is because Rembrandt had a knack for studying people, and his aim was to show the truth rather than follow the rules of art, and many contemporary art critics hail Rembrandt as a rebel.
Rembrandt is famous for his studies, portraits and self-portraits. He painted the citizens of Amsterdam along with three generations of his family. The subject of his paintings ranged from allegorical and historical scenes, landscapes, genre paintings, portraits and self-portraits, biblical and mythological themes. He painted, etched, and drew self-portraits over 75 times. Rembrandt prints are kept in both private and public collections, with the Rijksmuseum containing the largest public collection. Here are a handful of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings.
Christ in the Storm in the Sea of Galilee (1633)
Perhaps the most famous painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm in the Sea of Galilee, along with paintings by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Johannes Vermeer. Christ in the Storm in the Sea of Galilee is a famous and missed piece because it is Rembrandt’s only seascape. It was painted not long after Rembrandt moved from Leiden to Amsterdam, as he was slowly becoming the city’s leading painter. The painting is a biblical scene that puts nature up against human frailty (in a spiritual and physical sense). There’s a sudden storm, and the ship is caught in its grips, with the disciples trying their best to handle the situation, while Christ sits calmly.
The Night Watch (1642)
The Night Watch is one of Amsterdam’s most important and iconic paintings. It depicts the coat of arms of the city placed safely in the hand of Luitenant Willem van Ruytenburch, symbolising that the city is in the safe hands of the militia. On a basic level, The Night Watch is a group portrait, but Rembrandt being Rembrandt, the painting is a biblical scene filled with action, sound, and life. The Night Watch is formally known as the Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq. Originally, the painting had no title. In 1797, it was referred to as Night Watch. In 1911, the same year the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, a man attacked The Night Watch with a knife. It wouldn’t be the only time it received such an attack. In fact, in 1975, the painting was inflicted with twelve cuts.
Return of the Prodigal Son (1663-1665)
Rembrandt depicts a Biblical scene in Return of the Prodigal Son, which is an exploration of the Christian idea of mercy. The father shows sympathy, forgiveness, and love towards his long-lost son who has returned without the riches he once left with, but destitute. While the son believes his relationship with the father is broken and hopes he would at least take him to work as a servant, the father acts from a place of love, relieved his son has returned and seeing this as a lesson in redemption. This isn’t the only painting Rembrandt has done on the subject of the prodigal son. Along with a bunch of drawings and etches, there are two other paintings on the subject.
The Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (1634)
Rembrandt likely knew his subject Marten Soolmans back when they resided in Leiden, where Rembrandt comes from, and Marten studied law. Marten’s father was a Flemish immigrant who owned a sugar refinery so successful that the family was wealthy as a result, allowing Rembrandt to paint life-size portraits of the son, Marten, and his bride. Even though the newlyweds are painted on two separate canvases, the portraits have been kept together since Rembrandt painted them. Since 2016, the portraits are jointly owned by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Louvre in Paris, who will take turns in exhibiting the couple together.
The Jewish Bride (1665)
Vincent van Gogh once said he would give a decade of his life just to be able to spend a fortnight sitting in front of The Jewish Bride, also known as Isaac and Rebecca. Rembrandt’s painting is a portrait of two lovers, Isaac and Rebecca, who had to conceal their love by claiming they were father and daughter. This was Isaac’s only choice so he wouldn’t be killed by the Philistine King Abimelech, and have his wife captured.