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Who is Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn ?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, better known as Rembrandt, was a Dutch artist who lived during the 17th century. His work is widely regarded as among the finest produced during the Dutch Golden Age of art, and it can be found on display in numerous museums all over the world. Reproductions of Rembrandt's work are included in many art history books to illustrate the evolution of Dutch art. The mastery displayed in his work has earned it enduring popularity for centuries.

He was born in the town of Leiden in 1606, into a wealthy family which paid to educate him and later to apprentice him to another artist. By 1631, Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam, thanks to his growing popularity, which ensured a steady income. In 1634, he married, but his marriage was far from happy. Out of the four children that Rembrandt had with his wife Saskia, only one lived to adulthood, and his wife died shortly after the birth of their fourth child in 1642.

Despite being very popular in his own day, Rembrandt also struggled financially. He apparently took on significant debt and was unable to pay it, perhaps because his spending usually equaled his income. In the 1650s, Rembrandt actually sold off many of his possessions in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy, and he moved to a smaller and more modest residence. Records of these sales indicate that Rembrandt was a passionate collector of Old Master paintings and scientific specimens.

Rembrandt worked both as a painter and as a printmaker, producing a very large body of work although some art historians suspect that not all works identified as “Rembrandts” were truly created by him. His work is remarkable because it demonstrates often unusual uses of color in rich, dense, highly detailed pieces which are marked by distinctive uses of light and shadow. The etchings and prints of Rembrandt are also quite striking, often incredibly detailed and lush with classical allusions and complex thematic elements.

Rembrandt died in 1669, leaving behind a large body of work and possessions. Numerous museums have acquired well known paintings and etchings, and some also survive in private collections. People who are curious to know what Rembrandt looked like can take advantage of a large assortment of self portraits, which Rembrandt painted at many stages of his life. His body of work also includes a large number of portraits, religiously themed works, and some depictions of Dutch daily life which are quite interesting to look at.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By tolleranza — On Sep 23, 2011

@Speechie - I think as far as my limited experience with art, I agree with you. "Starry Night" by Van Gogh seems to be a part of pop culture.

But I know just enough about Rebrandt to take a guess that Rembrandt is not in pop culture because his paintings don't go abstract, because they are realistic and the style he paints in, in my opinion looks like it fits in museums and churches.

However, as far as paintings that you might recognize, I would suggest looking up Rembrandt's Prodigal Son painting - famous story, famous painting and worth seeing.

By Speechie — On Sep 23, 2011

I am just now learning about Rembrandt's details but he is one of the artists that you just hear about like Van Gogh and Picasso. However, I have not seen as many of Rembrandt's pieces like I have with those two. I have seen "Starry Night" and "Guernica" on posters and even t-shirts and I can't say that I could name a famous Rembrandt piece.

Am I missing a famous Rembrandt piece - that may be a Rembrandt piece but I am not recognizing it?

By Monika — On Sep 22, 2011

@sunnySkys - I remember learning about Rembrandt when I took art history. Although he is most famous for his painting, some of his drawings have actually survived as well.

I got a chance to see some of his drawings in a museum awhile back, and they were really something to look at. A few of his self portraits were done as a drawing on paper also, and I'm not surprised because I know he did a lot of self portraits.

I really liked seeing the drawings because they feel so much more immediate than a painting does. I feel like they're almost more personal somehow.

By sunnySkys — On Sep 21, 2011

It's always crazy to me when I hear about famous artists who struggled financially during their lifetimes. If you think of all the money museums have collected from Rembrandt exhibits, not to mention all the money people have made from selling his paintings it seems preposterous!

Still, many artists become much more famous after death. It makes me wonder what artists of our time we might be overlooking right now!

By manykitties2 — On Sep 20, 2011

@lonelygod - I would say Rembrandt's self-portraits are his most interesting work. He is up there with van Gogh as one of the most famous self-portraitists and not just because he did so many of them over the course of his life.

In his later years he seemed to be using self-portraits as a way to explore himself in a way that hadn't been done before; most self-portraits in art history prior to then were just self-advertisements or seemed to have been done for lack of any other model. But in those later portraits Rembrandt appears old and tired and he wasn't afraid to show himself as he really was.

By lonelygod — On Sep 20, 2011

Rembrandt is one of the few great painters in history who seemed to get even better with age. This is displayed in one of my favorite Rembrandt paintings, "The Return of the Prodigal Son", based on a Biblical story. He really captures his subjects on a human level in a way that other painters of the era just don't manage to do. The way the father seems to envelop his repentant son shows an insight into the human condition that I believe only comes with the wisdom of age.

Does anyone else have any favorite Rembrandt paintings? I would love to hear your impressions of his art work.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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