Old masters: Rembrandt


The greatest of the Dutch painters

The Eighty Years War, in which the Netherlands shrugged off the shackles of Hapsburg domination under Spain, energised the former to such an extent that the rebel states became a military and cultural force in Europe.

It was perhaps the most artistic period in history. The houses of the Dutch middle class teamed with original artworks and the painters and etchers of Holland transformed Western Art with the strength of their imaginations alone. We have a reinvention of interior domestic scenes, courtesy of Vermeer, while Frans Hals elevated the visible brush stroke from a flaw to masterly device.

And then there is Rembrandt.

In portraiture, etchings, civic and biblical scenes alike, Rembrandt’s aim was to achieve ‘the greatest and most natural movement’.

And he may even have succeeded. A master of chiaroscuro, he painted figures that emerge larger-than-life from the darkness surrounding them. Whether depicting the hustling figures of The Night Watch or the curious onlookers of the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, the emotive expression of these masterpieces flows from out their canvases.

Born in 1606 as the son of a well-to-do miller in Leiden, his parents took great interest in his education. With their support, he was accepted into the university of Leiden, shortly after which he was apprenticed to an artist and gained such skill that he himself began to tutor students from the age of 22. Some of his pupils went on to become masters in their own right.

Rembrandt’s talent did not go unnoticed and soon he was commissioned for works by the Hague and further afield for general portraiture. He moved to Amsterdam in 1631 where he thrived and married several years later, in 1634.

Throughout his life his art evolved and gained greater fluidity and colour, culminating in a range of masterworks which are among the foremost oeuvres of Western art. The Night Watch and the Anatomy lesson are among these, as are many other works, including Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer, Return of the prodigal son and The blinding of Samson.

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