When we visited the painting floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we turned a corner into a fairly large room filled with paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Of course I have decided to do a post of the paintings. Rembrandt often painted pictures of the Apostle Paul so Paul obviously had a major impact on his life. In his paintings, he tried to capture the force and emotion of Paul’s letters. In about 1659, Rembrandt finished another painting of the Apostle Paul. It is a peaceful scene of Paul writing letters at his desk. It is interesting to note the contrast between this picture and the exhilarating action of the Baroque paintings of Paul. Rembrandt, instead of emphasizing the action, portrays Paul as the embodiment of profound meditation. A sword, the trademark of Paul, leans in darkness against the wall. While his face basks in radiant light, the rest of the painting is dark with heavy colors. The depth of vision and feeling is seen with the deep, thoughtful gaze of the apostle. Paul’s passionate concern for the gospel is vividly captured by Rembrandt. The painting reveals Paul’s emphasis on the Word of God, as the sword of the Spirit, and his role as an apostle bringing the Word.
This wall is reminiscent of a similar wall in the Louvre. Instead of the centerpiece being Bathsheba, here the central portrait is that of the Apostle Paul. In person, this painting is magical, it has a power that goes beyond the frame. Chiaroscuro was the emphasis on light and darkness as a means of organization and expression within the picture. Rembrandt’s paintings by this time are more and more are characterized by emotional honesty and inner restlessness. Rembrandt’s nonconformity eventually led to a decline in reputation and opportunity. His difficulties increased in the 1650s. Commissions were not coming in and debt was growing. During this time another significant woman came into his life, Hendrickje Stoffels. Despite the affection between them, he could not marry her due to a provision in Saskia’s will which said a second marriage would require him to repay son Titus the amount of his mother’s inheritance. In 1656, he transferred his house to Titus, and an inventory was taken of the house in the Breestraat. 1657-58 saw the auctioning of many of his possessions due to rising debt. It was in this context that the painting was created. Rembrandt returned to the familiar theme of Apostle Paul, perhaps as a refuge from his financial difficulties, with a spectacular result. Hendrickje and Titus set up an art dealership in 1660, making Rembrandt their employee. But tragedy struck him again as both Hendrickje (1663) and Titus (1668) died in his lifetime. Rembrandt continued to struggle financially the rest of his life and essentially died a pauper in 1669.
This self portrait from 1652 has special significance among Rembrandt’s works. In all, the artist painted more than sixty self-portraits, thus documenting not only the conditions of his life but also, and in particular, his artistic development. It was painted the year that his financial difficulties began, and breaks with the sumptuous finery he had worn in previous self-portraits. In a manner different from that of his early successful years, when the artist portrayed himself disguised or in splendid clothing, here we see him in a simple brown artist’s smock in a confident posture, his hands on his hips and his thumbs in his belt. Following a period of seven years when he painted no self-portraits, focusing instead on landscapes and intimate domestic subjects, the Vienna Self Portrait inaugurated a prolific stretch in which Rembrandt painted an average of one self-portrait a year until his death in 1669. Contrary to the popular understanding that these paintings primarily represented a deeper personal interest in self-depiction, Ernst van de Wetering has proposed that they were painted specifically for connoisseurs who collected self-portraits by prominent artists. Art historian Christopher White has called it “one of the most magisterial and sombre of these (late) pictures”.
These two self portraits come from 1655 and represent the opposing feelings that the coming financial storm would create in Rembrandt. In the top painting he returns to the theme of Rembrandt as a wealthy and famous painter, with a gold chain and earring. Even so, he looks really unhappy. The two portraits share the frontal angle, lighting, and informal attire though the artist’s face may appear older in the bottom self portrait. The bottom painting is colloquially called the “little Rembrandt” at the Kunsthistorisches Museum due to the fact that it was painted in oil on a walnut panel which has been cut down in size.
Born in 1641, Titus was the only one of Rembrandt’s four children by his first wife, Saskia, to reach adulthood. He died in 1668, a year before his father, whose affairs he had managed. The picture is not a portrait in the narrow sense of the word; the real theme is the intimate situation of reading. The lighting is used as a means of intensifying the expression in the painting: certain parts of the young man’s face as well as his hand and the book have been highlighted against the darkness.
I happen to have another portrait of Titus from the same year from the Wallace Collection in London. I thought I would include it here. In 1656 Rembrandt was declared bankrupt and at about the time this portrait was painted of his sixteen-year old son. Titus van Rijn (1641-68), and Titus’s stepmother, Hendrickje Stoffels, were forced to administer the production of his etchings and the sale, in 1658, of his pictures. Rembrandt sympathetically captures the young man’s serious gaze while his handling of the paint lends the image an appearance of spontaneity and immediacy. The restricted palette, dominated by brown and dark red, and the sharp contrasts of light and shade accentuate this feeling of intimacy, further adding to the illusion of psychological connection between viewer and sitter. Of the twelve Rembrandts listed in the Wallace Collection when it was bequeathed to England in 1897, this is the only work to retain its full attribution to Rembrandt unchallenged.
These two paintings from 1632 are part of a set from the young Rembrandt’s school. In 1631, when he was 25, Rembrandt moved from Leiden to the Dutch capital Amsterdam, which offered him greater opportunity to develop his potential in society and the world of art. There he became sought after as a portraitist and had a large studio with numerous apprentices. Rembrandt’s portraiture is marked by great liveliness of expression and finally modulated lighting effects. The counterpoint to this portrait of an unknown man is Portrait of a Woman with a composition closely related in posture and gesture to its counterpart, the Portrait of a Man. The same materials and techniques were used in both paintings. Because of the somewhat stiff and passive posture posture of the woman, the scholars of the Rembrandt Research Project decided that this portrait is not in the painters hand. A recently suggested attribution is to Ferdinand Bol, although he did not work in Rembrandt’s studio until after 1635. I do not know the answer to this conundrum but it is known that Rembrandt was not particularly gifted in capturing the image of his patrons. Perhaps Rembrandt was simply young and failed to deliver his signiture style in the Portrait of a Woman.
This depiction of an elderly woman found in many of Rembrandt’s early paintings has traditionally been seen as a portrait of his mother. Her walking-stick and prayer shawl indicate that she is the prophetess Anna, who in the Gospel According to Luke (2:36-38) recognized the boy Jesus in the temple as the Redeemer. The thin and almost transparent paintwork however, is a strong departure in technique from that of other works by Rembrandt. Thus this must probably be regarded as a copy by Govaert Flinck of a Rembrandt painting that has been lost.
We have come to the end of another post, as always I hope you have enjoyed the journey. I have several additional posts on Rembrandt which you will find in the references.
KMH Picture Gallery: http://www.khm.at/en/visit/collections/picture-gallery/
Rembrandt Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: http://bilddatenbank.khm.at/KHMSearch/viewPerson?id=768
Wallace Collections: http://www.wallacecollection.org
Rembrandt Self Portraits: http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/complete_catalogue/start_self_portraits.htm
Rembrandt Research Project: http://www.rembrandtresearchproject.org
Philosopher in Meditation by Rembrandt: /philosopher-in-meditation-by-rembrandt-van-rijn-louvre-paris/
Bathsheba by Rembrandt: /rembrandt-bathsheba-at-her-bath/
Rembrandt Self-Portraits: /rembrandt-self-portraits-louvre/#more-2856