Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Until recently, when I would hear somebody mention Rembrandt, only one thing came to mind, “Oh yes, the artist.” That was all I knew: Rembrandt was an artist in another place at another time. Then I took a class at The Getty Center titled, “Becoming Rembrandt: Exploring The Man, The Myth, and The Legend.”
Beneath the surface of every creation, whether music, writing, or art, there are always stories. Sometimes these stories aren’t apparent, but every so often they jump out at you immediately. This is the case with Rembrandt’s paintings. Take one glance at one of his portraits and you immediately get the feel of the person depicted in a few strokes of Rembrandt’s brush. The next time you are viewing a painting by Rembrandt, see if you can determine the subject’s story; are they happy or sad, impatient or incredulous, hopeful or hopeless? Likewise, Rembrandt’s personality seems to jump right off the canvas into the room, inspiring us to ask: “What was he thinking as he painted? What were his feelings towards the person or people? Did he know the subject well?” These questions are often easily answered, by carefully observing the painting.
Rembrandt was a famed artist, even in his own time. Today he is one of the most famous artists in the world. Very few people are known to the world by their first name, but Rembrandt is, and has been for centuries. And yet it is not commonly known that humankind teetered on the edge of never knowing Rembrandt, “the artist.”
At the age of eight, Rembrandt began his education at a Latin school in his hometown of Leiden, The Netherlands. He was the only one of his nine siblings to go to school, but as he showed signs of high intelligence, his parents had hopes of him entering the government. Rembrandt continued pursuing his education until the age of fifteen, when his parents happened to espy his artistic abilities. They decided to obtain him an apprenticeship with an artist. Rembrandt later used his education in Latin in his paintings. He signed one of his portraits with a solitary “f” underneath his name. This is thought to represent the Latin word “facit,” which translates to “made by.” Hence, “Rembrandt made by,” or “made by Rembrandt.”
It is lucky that Rembrandt was able to find an apprenticeship. Most boys began their art training around the ages of eight or nine, never fifteen, as Rembrandt was. Because of his late start, Rembrandt had to learn quickly; there was not much time to spend perfecting everything, learning every little technique. Some art scholars believe it is because of this limited amount of time spent on training that Rembrandt’s paintings look freer than other artists’ of his time, who tried to make their paintings as smooth and perfect looking as possible. Is it possible that because he had already been drawing for years before beginning his formal training, he paid less attention to rules?
His freeness certainly gives his paintings a human, thoughtful, emotional, and realistic look. In short, Rembrandt’s paintings are quite brilliant. Apparently, Rembrandt thought so too, for in one of his self-portraits as a young man, he looks so self-confident and sure of himself, it comes as no wonder that he was called a “know-it-all.” He actually lost himself a very important patron due to his overly high self-esteem.
Rembrandt went on to become an art instructor himself, married, bought himself a large house, and began to over-spend. His money started to run low, and in 1656, all of his belongings, including his paintings, began being auctioned off, leaving him penniless for the rest of his life; Rembrandt died in 1669. In Rembrandt’s later self-portraits, his sadness and despair is clear in his eyes.
Rembrandt wasn’t just a painter, he was a person and through his paintings he was a storyteller. Still, more and more is being discovered about Rembrandt. We will never know everything about him; he didn’t write diaries or letters, but maybe Rembrandt’s idea of a diary is different than most peoples. Maybe Rembrandt’s diary is his collection of paintings. — Natalie
P.S. Make sure to read my mom’s new post “Seeing Something That Hasn’t Been Seen for 400 Years” to learn about an amazing new Rembrandt discovery.