Christopher Atkins

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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The son of a miller in Leiden, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn turned to art as a profession relatively late. While many began artistic training early in their youth, Rembrandt did not do so until after he had enrolled at the University of Leiden. Rembrandt then learned the rudiments of painting from Jacob van Swanenburgh before apprenticing for the renowned artist Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. Familiarity with Lastman’s proclivity for well-wrought and researched representations of scenes from antiquity and the Bible provided Rembrandt with the tools to excel as a history painter. On his return to Leiden in 1626, Rembrandt shared a studio with Jan Lievens, who had studied with Lastman just a few years earlier. Together they inspired and propelled one another, attracting considerable attention in the process. Through the mediation of the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, Rembrandt ventured into the larger market of Amsterdam and relocated to the city shortly thereafter, in 1632. While the bulk of Rembrandt’s early works can be categorized as history paintings, he quickly became an accomplished portraitist. Indeed, it was through portraiture that Rembrandt secured clients and established a market presence. It is likely that through his portrayal of Amsterdam patricians he landed prestigious commissions and sales for historical works. From the mid-1630s through the end of his career, Rembrandt produced history pieces and portraits concurrently. Perhaps as a result, many of his history paintings possess some qualities of portraiture while he also introduced multi-figured narrative strategies into his portraits. Rembrandt was a multimedia artist. In addition to painting, he was also an accomplished draftsman and printmaker. In drawings, Rembrandt searched for pictorial solutions to form and subject, though individual drawings rarely served as preparatory models for paintings. In prints, Rembrandt was the pre-eminent etcher of his time. Each etching is independent from his paintings and constituted an original work of art it its own right. Etchings also constituted a significant part of his business plan as they circulated his abilities widely, even beyond the borders of the Dutch Republic, and they were offered at lower costs than were his paintings, ensuring a wider market. In all media, Rembrandt is admired for the humanity of his representations and the boldness of his formal explorations.

Article.  8552 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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