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Rembrandt was born

The life of the great painter is considered a mystery, but he reveals himself to us through his work.

The Dutch are known for many things, but perhaps none so much as a pantheon of great artists who emerged from Holland during the 17th century. Known as the Dutch Masters, the list includes some of the most revered artists of all time. Top among them is Rembrandt van Rijn.

A self portrait of Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669) in 1639.

Rembrandt, who signed only his first name to his paintings was born in Leiden, Holland, on July 15, 1606, during Hollands Golden Age, a time when Holland, particularly the city of Amsterdam, was prospering as the European hub for both commerce and culture. Trade was robust and the arts were flourishing. Rembrandt was educated at a prestigious Latin school and then at the University of Leiden. However, he left college to study art, first with a local teacher in Leiden, and then in Amsterdam.

Rembrandts genius was immediately evident. He returned to Leiden, where he quickly became a popular teacher, and repeated that success after moving to Amsterdam.

He married the niece of a prominent art dealer, and was soon earning portrait commissions from wealthy patrons. His first major commission, in 1631, resulted in the painting Anatomy Lesson for Dr. Tulp, a group portrait of local surgeons.

Rembrandts portraits were in high demand, as were his biblical and mythological scenes. He was also a popular teacher, sought out by many artists, successful and respected in their own right, who wanted to study with him.

Unlike many other artists, Rembrandt enjoyed success in his lifetime and earned a very comfortable living from the beginning of his career. He lived in a grand home with his beautiful wife, amassing a vast art collection.

Rembrandt was a master of a technique known as chiaroscuro, which is the use of shading and contrast to convey a mood or feeling in a painting. His paintings were also noted for conveying deep empathy for the human condition. He often painted the women in his life, such as his wife and, after her death, his mistress.

He produced landscapes and self-portraits, sketches and paintings, and often imbued his work with ambiguity, leaving it up to the viewer to wonder about the subject. His painting, The Polish Rider, is one of these great mysteries. No one has ever been able to determine the identity of the man depicted on horseback, or identify the location the painting conveys.

During the 1640s and 1650s, Rembrandts popularity and commissions fell, and in 1656, he was forced to declare insolvency and sell off all his belongings, including his art collection and his grand home.

The final decade of Rembrandts life was among his most creative. He received several prestigious commissions, including a 1661 group portrait “The Syndics” which is considered one of his best works.

Rembrandt died in 1669 at age 63.

New York Post, July 145, 2011

Written by: Robin Wallace

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