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The History of Rembrandt's Life

August 28, 2014 General 0 Comments

Rembrandt. Famous the world over simply by his first name, the Dutch artist is regarded as one of the greatest portrait painters of all time. Given his July 15 birth date, let's look back at the history of Rembrandt's life, as well as his most famous works of art.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn did not come from an artistic family. His father was a miller, his mother the daughter of a baker, but in the Dutch Republic (now the Netherlands) in 1606, the year of his birth, his family was considered comfortably well off. This afforded Rembrandt, the second youngest of 10 children, the chance to attend a good Latin school, and then university at the age of 14.

The History of Rembrandts LifeHe didn't take particularly well to university life, but it was there that he found his interest in art. He left school to apprentice to master painter Jacob van Swanenburgh, known for his work with light and reflection. He worked with him in Leiden for three years before moving on to a six-month apprenticeship with Amsterdam's Pieter Lastman, a well known painter of historical scenes.

Following these relatively short apprenticeships, Rembrandt opened his own studio in Leiden in 1625, sharing a space with friend Jan Lievens. He took on many students, too, and young artists flocked to his side. During this time, Rembrandt experimented with shadow, leaving many of his paintings only partly illuminated, and he completed "Judas Repentant, Returning the Pieces of Silver" (1629) and "Two Old Men Disputing (St. Peter and St. Paul)" (1628), among many other works.

Around 1631, Rembrandt began to spend more time in Amsterdam and do business with Hendrickje Uylenburgh, a wealthy entrepreneur and art dealer. His marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh in 1634, the art dealer's niece, led to portrait commissions from many wealthy patrons. During this time, Rembrandt's work became even more dramatic and he created many great pieces, most notably "The Blinding of Samson" (1636) and "Danae" (1636). He also completed more of his most famous works, including "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp" (1632) and "The Night Watch" (1642).

While Rembrandt's public career was flourishing, his personal life was marked by tragedy. Based at an Amsterdam town house which he purchased at the age of 33, his wife Saskia gave birth to four children but only one, Titus, survived. Saskia died in 1642 at the age of 30. Rembrandt's housekeeper, Hendrickje Stoffels, the model for many of his paintings, eventually became his common-law wife.

In the 10 years following the completion of what many believe to be his masterpiece, "The Night Watch," the history of Rembrandt's life becomes less clear and has led to the development of many myths. There is much speculation around whether he stopped accepting commissions or whether he received no commissions after his wife died. He became known for ostentatious living, declaring bankruptcy in 1656. His personal life saw further tragedy as Hendrickje died in 1663, and Titus died in 1668 at 27 years old. He had one last work left in him after Titus's death, producing "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (1669). He died in Amsterdam soon after completing it. His extravagant living had left him with no money, and he was buried in an unmarked grave at Westerkerk, a church in Amsterdam. To this day, no one knows which grave is his.

Rembrandt's self portraits, biblical scenes, innovative etchings and extraordinary use of shadow and light are what distinguish him and mark him as a genius. His legacy lives on today, and he remains one of the most revered painters of all time. Rembrandt's passion, curiosity and variety ensure that he will be remembered not only this July, but for centuries to come.

Photo source: Morguefile

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