Rembrandt van Rijn (b. 1606–d. 1669) is an artist as renowned today as in his own era. As a self-taught etcher, he was among the most innovative printmakers of the 17th century. As a painter and draughtsman, he largely used conventional materials and techniques, but he often pushed these media to their limits—with his manipulation of thickly applied paint or with his split-reed pens. Rembrandt’s early fame is demonstrated through the dissemination of his paintings and prints in England and other European countries from the 1630s onward. Changing tastes, and his apparently difficult personality, led to a decline in patronage after 1650, yet his stature was recognized through commissions and literary citations up to his death in 1669 and beyond. Although he had a substantial income during much of his career, he did not manage his money well and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Amsterdam’s Westerkerk in 1669. His art was nonetheless cherished and collected in succeeding centuries, and by the late 19th century he was the most popular Old Master painter among private art collectors. Rembrandt’s art has had an unusual ability to sustain attention over time. He had one of the largest workshops in The Netherlands, and many painters of note spent time in his workshop as beginning students or, more often, in a kind of postgraduate assistantship. Questions of how the workshop was organized and whether Rembrandt, like Rubens, collaborated with his assistants on paintings have been major subjects in Rembrandt scholarship, and are still unresolved. Another topic of continued investigation is the examination of his materials and techniques, often in service of determining the attribution of paintings. No other artist has been the subject of a government-funded study of attribution, in which a group of experts examined details of his work as the Rembrandt Research Project has done, and the conclusions of this project have stimulated debate for over forty years. In addition to the search for Rembrandt’s individual style, the thematic popularity of his art has been responsible for an extraordinary number of exhibitions devoted to different aspects of his art; the catalogues of these exhibitions often contain important contributions to the Rembrandt literature, and have helped to establish the exhibition catalogue as a form of scholarly inquiry for the study of Dutch art. Rembrandt studies continue to be dynamic, and further research into the function of Rembrandt’s drawings and etchings, as well as additional material made accessible through online sources, will sustain interest in his art for years to come.
White 1984 and Westermann 2000, both available only in paperback, remain the most accessible and judicious recent introductions to Rembrandt’s life and art, while Rosenberg 1980, now two generations old (it was first published in 1948), still has much to offer the reader as a general introduction. Broos, et al. 2007–2016 is a thorough encyclopedia entry on Rembrandt, with sections on different media written by experts in those areas, but the bibliography has not been updated since the mid-1990s. Both the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art and the Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis regularly offer articles on Rembrandt or the influence of Rembrandt.
Broos, B. P. J., Christopher Brown, Felice Stampfle, Eleanor A. Sayre, and Peter Schatborn. “Rembrandt van Rijn.” In Oxford Art Online: Grove Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007–2016.
Succinct and authoritative discussion of Rembrandt’s life and art, written by leading scholars in the field; bibliography only goes up to mid-1990s. Available online by subscription.
The electronic, peer-reviewed journal focuses on art produced in the Netherlands during the early modern period (c. 1400–c. 1750), and in other countries and later periods as they relate to Netherlandish art. Rembrandt is frequently a subject of articles in the journal.
Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis. 1947–.
The official publication of the Museum het Rembrandthuis, published since 1947. The journal publishes articles focused on the life, work, and influence of Rembrandt.
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980.
First published as Rembrandt by Harvard University Press in 1948. The dominant interpretation of Rembrandt for at least a generation, Rosenberg’s presentation of Rembrandt’s life and work is sensitive and balanced, if colored by a Romantic concept of genius, and remains highly readable today. A chapter on Rembrandt’s life is followed by chapters organized around subject matter, such as portraiture, historical themes, and mythology. Readers should note that many of Rosenberg’s attributions to Rembrandt are no longer upheld.
Westermann, Mariët. Rembrandt. London: Phaidon, 2000.
Engaging account of Rembrandt’s life and art, eloquently written with an eye to Rembrandt’s relevance for 20th-century audiences.
White, Christopher. Rembrandt. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984.
Well-balanced approach to biography and sensitive descriptions of works; more attentive to Rembrandt’s prints and drawings than many other general accounts.
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