Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a renowned Dutch painter during the 17th Century Golden Age. He was considered to be one of the best painters in history. His realistic paintings held a true likeness to the person or subject being captured.
Rembrandt Van Rijn’s paintings were primarily self-portraits and biblical scenes. However, Rembrandt’s artworks are famous for depicting the people’s moods he painted. Instead of favoring beauty within his portraits, Rembrandt would rather harness the realism and natural traits of the person he painted.
Rembrandt also had a distinct passion for depicting accounts from biblical stories. There are over 300 Rembrandt works based on Bible times. But, first, let us consider 5 Rembrandt artworks that demonstrate his unique way of painting.
Sacrifice of Isaac
The Bible is full of gripping stories, with the added benefit of having a significant meaning. One such account holds a touching message, and that is when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.
Rembrandt did an outstanding job capturing every powerful emotion and feature of this scene. Isaac is blindfolded, but the soft contours Rembrandt used for his body depict a sense of willingness. Abraham, on the other hand, looks frightened. Rembrandt used dark shadows and comprehensive facial features to illustrate this fear.
The angel is shown to have smaller and softer features than the men and large wings that represent his great power.
The background is also filled with immense detail, painted with dark colors to show the grimness of the situation, only showing a measure of light on the angel and Isaac.
Self-Portrait at the Age of 63
Rembrandt Van Rijn pursued self-portraits more than any other artist during the Golden Age. Many claims that this was because he was trying to better himself and his flaws.
The Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 was the last self-portrait he did before his death. As the name states, it is a portrait of himself at 63 years of age. The painting is very dark, with faint lines and boundaries, except for Rembrandt’s face, which is almost illuminated.
Rembrandt died a poor man and lost his wife and son before his death. Yet, despite all the grief he was experiencing, the portrait depicts a calm and confident facial expression.
Perhaps Rembrandt wanted this painting to influence how people remembered him, not for his tragedy but his talent.
The Return of the Prodigal Son
‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ is a model illustration of how God forgives those He loves. It’s the story of a boy who squanders his living after leaving home but returns seeking redemption, which his father gives abundantly and completely.
In Rembrandt’s visual representation of the account, we see the father lovingly hugging his son, who is humbly kneeling at his father’s feet, showing genuine repentance.
We see his father’s servants looking on, dressed better than the son who had spent all his wealth. The artist managed to capture the mercy and forgiveness shown by the father in a friendly way.
This biblical scene could have grabbed the artist for two reasons. One is that he too was poor like the son, failing to make ends meet on his own, or the second being the loss of his son, and how he would be glad to welcome him back if he could.
Self-Portrait as a Young Man
Since we looked at Rembrandt’s last self-portrait, it would make sense also to consider an early one. At the age of 22, the artist decided to do one of his first self-portraits using the experimental technique of chiaroscuro, which uses bold contrasts to enhance the volume of the art.
The painting named Self-Portrait as a Young Man, also called Self-Portrait With Disheveled Hair, uses heavy contrasts. A large shadow covers most of the artist’s face, only vaguely showing his eyes.
Unlike his portrait when he was much older, this portrait lacks a discernible emotion. Instead, the eyes seem to stare blankly into the distance.
Rembrandt’s skills improved when he painted his last portrait. His representations of his character became much clearer.
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
The Bible book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah, is about the wayward behavior exhibited by Jerusalem. The people had left God and were worshiping other gods. The book of Lamentations reflects Jeremiah’s dismay at the gross acts the people were committing.
In this painting, Rembrandt has depicted the prophet Jeremiah sitting on a mountain after the destruction of Jerusalem. You can also see Jerusalem in flames in the top left corner.
We can see the talent of Rembrandt’s ability to paint realistically in the creases on Jeremiah’s brow, which is one of the most defining details of the painting, illustrating the obvious pain on the prophet’s face. The dark and dramatic overall tone of the painting represents the seriousness of what was happening.
The Bottom Line
We can understand why Rembrandt’s art stood out among his contemporaries. He could capture his character in such an honest way and the skill to include the real emotion within well-known biblical scenes, allowing the viewer to feel as if they were there to experience it themselves.