Monday, December 31, 2012

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

The Holy Family with Angels
oil on canvas
117 x 91 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

"Choose only one master -  Nature." (Rembrandt)
In the 1640s Rembrandt produced several works on the subject of the Holy Family. The world of peace and love, lost after the death of his wife Saskia, seemed possible once more after the appearance in Rembrandt's house in 1645 of Hendrickje Stoffels. It has been suggested that the features of Hendrickje are to seen in the face of the Virgin Mary and that the little child asleep in the cradle is Titus, son of Rembrandt and Saskia. Domestic happiness and intimacy are their dominate mood.

Joseph is hard at work at his bench, but the yoke in his hand may also be linked with the legend that Christ would free the people of Israel from the yoke. Mary pauses her reading of the Bible in order to check on her son. He is sound asleep in his cradle. Mary slightly opens the curtain to look at the face of her son, her face radiating the light of love and tenderness. A group of angels accompanied by divine light from Heaven enters the room to witness this domestic scene. The warmth of the home is felt in the brownish gloom of the peaceful household, into which a clear golden light pierces, accompanying the hovering little angels. The red cloth which covers the cradle of the Messiah rings out like a declaration.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 - 1669), born in Leiden as the eighth of nine children of a miller, was a Dutch painter and etcher. Despite the fact that he came from a family of relatively modest means, his parents took great care with his education. He was the first and the only of their sons who was sent to the school for Latin. After seven years’ schooling (1613-1620), at the age of 14, Rembrandt entered the Philosophical Faculty of Leiden University to study Classics. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age, when Dutch Golden Age painting, although in many ways antithetical to the Baroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative.

Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt's later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Between 1635 and 1641 Saskia (his wife) gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived; her own death came in 1642 - at the age of 30. Hendrickje Stoffels, engaged as his housekeeper about 1649, eventually became his common-law wife and was the model for many of his pictures. Despite Rembrandt's financial success as an artist, teacher, and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. Yet these problems in no way affected Rembrandt's work. His etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high. His personal life, however, continued to be marred by sorrow. His beloved Hendrickje died in 1663, and his son, Titus, in 1668 - only 27 years of age. Eleven months later, on October 4, 1669, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam.

His paintings are characterized by luxuriant brushwork, rich color, and a mastery of chiaroscuro. He was a master of light and shadow whose paintings, drawings, and etchings made him a giant in the history of art. Numerous portraits and self-portraits exhibit a profound penetration of character. His drawings constitute a vivid record of contemporary Amsterdam life. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. Because of his renown as a teacher, his studio was filled with pupils, some of whom were already trained artists.