Rembrandt van Rijn

The famed Baroque portrait painter Rembrandt van Rijn possessed an innate ability to penetrate beyond the external surface of the face’s likeness in order to give us a look at the inner consciousness.  His work methodology required Rembrandt to  take his time executing the likeness in order to reveal the hidden sentient being that resides well hidden and protected below the surface.  In his journals Rembrandt stated:  “The deepest and most lifelike emotion has been expressed, and that’s the reason they have taken so long to execute.”  What are your thoughts on Rembrandt’s desire to explore the deep recesses of humanism as evidenced by his powerful execution of 40+ self portraits?

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.


26 thoughts on “Rembrandt van Rijn”

  1. The task that Rembrandt took on with every portrait was more than just the task of producing a painting that resembled its subject. He took considerable amounts of time studying and discovering what lied beneath the surface appearance of the face. He considered inner feelings and the expressions that peaked through the surface and onto the face. He saw an elderly man as not a face of wrinkles, but rather a man who had a history, a past, and that the age in his face was a story of his life. His self portraits depict this quite well. As Rembrandt’s life progressed he experienced many hardships and the agony he felt can be seen in his portraits. In portraits of Rembrandt’s younger years a smile and expressions of joy are evident. In later years the smiles and joyous expressions are replaced by bleakness. Seeing more than just a face staring back at you is what Rembrandt mastered and will forever be known for.

  2. I strongly agree with the entry by Victoria and love how she made the connection between seeing just an old man’s face in a painting, or seeing a man’s face with a history of stories behind it because of his age. I believe it is exactly what Rembrandt’s goal was when painting his portraits and that is why they took longer than expected. It was not just an art of painting a likeness of people on a canvas, but painting a portrait of their life story all in one moment of time. Instead of creating a work of art that one could look at and see just a face of a female or a face of a male, Rembrandt made clarity to the viewer what was behind just the face of the painting. For instance, instead of just a female portrait, he accessorized her with intricate detail in costumes and jewelry. Furthermore, his interest in light and paint application choice showed much development as a painter in comparison to others of his time.

    After some research on Rembrandt, the most interesting element I noticed with his paintings and painting techniques was his constant change in skills and style. His paintings changed from smaller sizes to larger ones. In addition, his colors became more dramatic and even his brush strokes became more prominent. Lastly, I found it very interesting that he not only distanced himself from earlier work but with current fashion as well, which he then was inclined to finer, detailed work.

  3. I believe Rembrandt loved the human form and had a deep and uncontrollable facianation with people in general. It was that uncontrollable desire to paint people no matter where they were from that lead to his ultimate downfall. But even after his trouble had taken hold of his life and career, Rembrandt refused to stop painting. He may not have had different subjects to paint like in the years prior to his troubles, but none the less he still continued on in his craft. His desire to paint the truest human expression still lived on inside of him until he’s regrettable death took him away from his craft.

  4. – I think that a true portrait artist captures the essence of the person sitting. The determination to spend as much time as necessary on a work of art was/is essential to getting the portrait exactly right to include the essence of their being. The layers of paint and his time consuming effort highlighted Rembrandt’s ability to create that excellent likeness and keep it true to the actual individual. His mission to explore humanism through painting, his self portraits in particular, show his determination to understand the person sitting and reflect a real person. His forty plus self portraits are explorations in getting a true likeness, he wanted perfection and reality. With the flaws and wrinkles carried by an individual who has lived life. Not a static figure but a real person staring back at the viewer.

  5. The reason why Rembrant was such a great painter was not only his ability to capture what he saw in front of him with excellent skill and precision, but his ability to capture the internal light behind his subjects- including his self portraits.
    Rembrant’s self portraits have been described as a modest reflection of himself without vanity or pride. They were humble and thoughtful and conveyed a true sense of who the man in the paintings was.
    Rembrant showed through his works, especially his many self portraits, that his interest was not only to portray the external shell of a human being in order to prove his talents, but rather he strove for something deeper and more meaningful. This achievement proves not only valuable to the audience, so they can gather a greater sense of meaning and beauty from the paintings, but to the artist himself. Rembrant slaved away at these paintings for years in order to reveal the soul inside the portraits.

  6. Rembrant saw something lying deep within the human face, something that he greatly desired to capture. He did not simply want to create an outer likeness of a person, he wanted to recreate that person wholly, with their presence intact, captured in the painted form. He would accept no less, it seems likely that the many, many self-portraits he did were a form of self-reflection and analysis, as well as practice. Trying to capture his own form and presence in his painting may have given him insight into himself, as well as insight into crafting that deep layer of emotional connection into the portraits he was commissioned to do. It was a relentless pursuit, and, tragically, one that led to his downfall. Finding that deep emotion within the Jewish community tainted him in the eyes of his peers, and eventually led to his great loss. Still, he would not back down, and continued to pursue and study that hidden sentience within a person, capturing it within the paint and canvas. It is a sad thing that happened to him, and I can’t help but wonder what he would have done if the society around him had not been so bigoted.

  7. In my first advanced painting class here at UNLV, a talented classmate said she painted mainly to understand herself psychologically; to help address her own emotional issues. Her statement caught me quite by surprise, at least enough to remember it to this day. I’ve had some past experience dealing with persons suffering emotionally, and had never before heard such a claim, that making art could help cope with emotions, independent of the usual psychotherapy and medication. Since then, however, in television interviews with Charlie Rose, I’ve heard the same assertion from a few other artists and actors. Yet creating art is far from the usual mode of psychotherapy. Most people deal with their emotional difficulties, and only with significant denial, by the usual means (some effective and others less so): drinking, drugs, gambling, over-eating and shopping, excessive sex, psychotherapy, anti-depressants, and a million variations on the same themes.

    Perhaps Rembrandt was similarly plagued by his own unspecified emotional issues. Mental disorders of every stripe must have been common, and yet they were likely poorly documented and inadequately treated. In his day, psychotherapy was unknown as a codified method of mental disorder treatment. (Freud will not make his appearance for another 200 years, and Rembrandt just doesn’t seem the sort to lie on couch free-associating for years on end.) If one suffered typical human anguish, no psychotherapist existed. Most people coped as best they could in solitude, unless they had access to a kindly, experienced relative or elder. If you had a more serious disorder such as schizophrenia or manic-depression, your fate might be far worse, possibly a filthy asylum where you would surely worsen; perhaps die even.

    Wikipedia states Rembrandt was the ninth child in a financially sound family, and reported no childhood traumas. However, he suffered the loss of several young children, had conjugal difficulties, significant financial troubles, and, of course, the usual nameless “slings and arrows,” and “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” If art can heal the afflicted psyche, and the self-portrait the most psychological expression of art, then who better to treat oneself than Rembrandt? The more he painted himself, the more time and effort exerted, the more depth and detail revealed, the better he felt.

    Obviously, this is pure speculation. The easiest explanation is that this genius simply loved to paint and explore his own portrait with remarkable skill and honesty.

  8. Rembrandt idea of revealing the humanistic qualities to his portraits is unique because of the care full length and strength put into revealing that deepness, in the quote from this page that stated, “The deepest and most life like emotion has been expressed, and that’s the reason they have taken so long to execute.” this quote stood out to me mainly because the way I took into affect my own portraits I have done and how the more length of time spent over and over to express the emotion of ones look is something not rushed and is shown to bring in the view to analyze the feel. It takes planning time and precision which Rembrandt possessed in his brilliant works. expressive with light and color to not direct you further from the figure and its portrait. His portraits such as the one shown was portrayed more then what someone who sees this man in plain daylight walking down a street. He gave a sense of feel in a portrait. That deeper meaning and even made you take the time to analyze the painting when in person who would look at it that same way.

  9. As an English Major here at UNLV I am obsessed with stories and creates the essence of a good character. Rembrandt’s desires to capture this essence that underlies the human face not only makes him a humanist, but a story teller as well. Each line drew his attention as to what might have caused it. He makes the viewer wonder what makes this person appear as they do now. He was interested in what was being felt behind the face and what the person had been through. The hands and eyes are especially expressive when it comes to giving a sense as to what the person in the portrait is thinking or feeling. There is such a sensitivity and warmth one could almost talk to these faces.

    As for his self-portraits I believe it was very brave to portray himself so honestly. It is hard to reveal all the flaws that you carry (having done a few self-portraits of my own), and it takes great control to want to see each one. Rembrandt’s dedication to capturing the story behind each face is what drove him to maintain these flaws because that is what creates the story. Those flaws make the viewer want to stand and look and ask, “What happened to you?”

  10. Learning about Rembrandt’s challenges reminds me of the levels of freedom we have as artists in modern American society. I am very pleased with Rembrandt’s actions regarding his artistic subjects. I am impressed that he stuck with what he knew was natural and right and captured the inner beauty of those oppressed individuals in his environment. He could really see beyond the social confines of the day. Art just wouldn’t be as powerful if it were controlled by one class of people. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a society that doesn’t allow an artist to comment on what they are captivated by. He should have been valued in his day for his unusual perspective of those who were socially displaced. Rembrandt really understood his gift as a true artist.

  11. Rembrandt had the ability to not only paint but give them a past and bring life to the faces he drew. He had a curiosity and by satisfying it Rembrandt unfortunately was shunned because of his urge to paint the Jewish people. He pushed the boundaries to satisfy an inner need, and in doing so his life suffered. He was looked down on, struggled to support his family, had his children died before him and died in poverty.
    They say that the best Jazz music is the most painful, that in order to create beautiful jazz you need to have lived an ugly life, well Rembrandt’s life is clearly in his paintings. You can see the joy and happiness in his early self portraits. Those paintings are replaced by a Rembrandt who’s endured, who’s suffered. His portraits don’t speak, there isn’t a story written down, but you can see it in the eyes, in the wrinkles, in the skin. Seeing his later portraits I get a sense that Rembrandt is tired of life, like he has quietly given up.

  12. Rembrandt seemed to have an urge to explore the deepest recesses of human emotion. The dark ages and periods of artistic suppression seem to finally fade away when Rembrandt openly explores these emotions in his detailed and intense works of art. It is as though we have come full circle from the Bust of the Patrician, which was made in Rome before the dark ages and re-ignited the search for emotion and depth in paintings and in other forms of art. I can see why Rembrandt would want to explore this with passion, as emotion is a powerful thing to lose in any art form.

  13. I think the ability to be able to paint someone, not only accurately, but to also capture the essence of their personality in the piece is a very important and hard to achieve goal of a portrait artist. A person’s emotions and psychology is always changing, which explains why Rembrant painted numerous self portraits all throughout his life. By doing this he created a timeline of himself, not only of likeness but also of his emotions and how events in his life have affected him.

  14. I agree with Tom Wong, I think that his desire to paint the different expressions of the human form and features derives from what he was struggling with inside. I think that he used art as a form of therapy or at least a coping mechanism. When I look at some of his self-portraits I don’t just see an accurate painting. I see a man who has been beaten down by life.
    He was shunned because of his paintings and the quality of his life was threatened. At any point He could have just resolved himself to painting landscapes to make money and easily raised the quality of his life. So, why didn’t he? I don’t think it was some act of blind sedition. I think that he felt some type of enlightenment; that painting as he did satisfied him in a way that money could not.

  15. Rembrandt had to struggle with the need of having to capture the ever-changing light within a person that only he could see.

  16. I admire Rembrandt for his ability to capture personality and a story within his portraits. Rembrandt’s portraits can be read as an auto biography in images, but more than just the typical kind that represent certain events in someone’s life. It represents certain emotions. I get a sense of a deep human connection in his paintings. He connects with the subject and transfers that connection to the medium. That’s what makes it so extraordinary and unique. He must have gotten to know himself so deeply to study his own face for that many self portraits and to accurately and genuinely express those deep human emotions with just he stroke of a brush.

  17. A portrait is already a very difficult thing to paint. The likeliness of the face is easier to notice than anything else since we see faces every day in our lives and they are ingrained in our memory so much so for Rembrandt to be able to capture another person in his portraits so well is already an amazing task but to add life to them takes his paintings to another level. To merely copy what one sees takes skills, but to add life and soul to it takes a great amount of patience and passion. He wanted to perfect all of his paintings to reveal everything there is to do with that one single human, what we want to see and what we don’t.

  18. I once attempted to paint a multifaceted cut precious stone with light shining through it. It was probably the most difficult challenge in painting, in which I was defeated. Rembrandt however, took the time to study and paint the multifaceted dimensions of man. The way to understand something is to spend time with it. Rembrandt, just as any person spent the most time in life with himself. The one thing or person that is always there, and you cannot get away from. This is probably why he created over 40 self portraits. To understand and study the multifaceted dimensions of the human soul, in this case, his own.

  19. It is evident that Rembrandt went beyond the level of just painting portraits of people. In fact, he not only became personal with each person, but examined their soul and expressed their inner self on his canvas. For an artist to take the time in figuring out who his subject is before painting a portrait of them is truly remarkable, especially for someone who did numerous paintings. Like Rembrandt, I do believe it is essential to capture someone’s true self in a portrait than just the external surface of their face. In fact, you can almost delve deep into someone’s soul and feel their emotions just by observing one of Rembrandt’s portraits. Rembrandt practiced the technique of capturing emotion by painting 40+ self portraits. By doing this, he achieved the skill of painting details in a face that resembled a person’s character, vulnerability and strengths.

  20. Often times the mystery in life invokes the deepest quest for answers. Without forming the questions, one can gather a hunger for the answers that haunt an inquisitive mind.

    Rembrandt painted with the kind of hunger of a starving nation. Never satisfied with one indication of an answer, he painted as if he were writing a blueprint to the heart of man. He painted as if he were on an endless journey, and prepared to travel to the furthest galaxy to find more answers to more questions. This is why painting was his life’s work, yet painting seems to have been the medium in which to record what his eyes saw, and what his mind searched for in humanity. The mystery continues.

  21. Rembrandt was an amazing portrait painter. Only someone with so much passion and desire could capture the real meaning on people’s faces and their deepest emotions. He wanted to do something different and to create a new beginning in the history of art. Specifically, he wanted to create something personal and intimate. Not only was he understanding and kind with people, but he could also perceive their inner sides. As he was particularly intrigued by faces, Rembrandt mastered every detail in the face. His portraits were done with deliberate perfection and his use of light created flawless gestures.

  22. Rembrandt had an amazing talent for being able to capture a particular person’s emotions in each and every portrait. Whether it was pain, anguish, or happiness he was able to capture the viewer and to get them to truly feel for the person in the painting. One thing that I particularly admire about Rembrandt was his ability to paint a figure’s eyes perfectly. I believe that in any drawing or painting of someone if you do not get their eyes just right it will look nothing like them and will not connect with the viewer in any way. Any painter who is able to do this I believe is a successful one. These are just a few reasons why Rembrandt is considered on of the masters.

  23. When it came to his portraits Rembrandt was more concerned with the spirituality and character that make up the person, not just the exterior representation of what is really inside of us. Our emotions our feeling our thoughts our stories. I think he was always in search for the true likeness. not just what was givingly presented on the outside but the thing that lies within us. The Soul.

  24. I think Rembrandt figures that the best way to understand “The deepest and most lifelike emotion” is no to create works of humanity as a whole no. Its better to understand humanity is to dig deep into oneselfs humanity. Only by painting ones trials, heartaches, pains, and joys. Then you can have a greater understanding of humanity then creating others humanity. This is true when looking at his 40+ portraiture you can see his life in his eyes. its said the eyes are a doorway to ones soul and Rembrandt’s soul is on display in his eyes. you can see his sorrows, his humility and the evils of other humanities onto another human.

  25. I believe he had an un-controlable desire to capture the soul of person . He was always after that of what he saw in the mirror . it IS ONE THING TO LOOK INTO THE MIRROR AND SEE WHAT YOU ARE AND feel what you feel and know what you are thinking behind the dark circles under your eyelids but to be able to covey that through the paint brush is for most people an unatainable satisfaction . FOr rembrandt this was life this was his mission and he captured it time after time .

  26. Rembrandt had the ability to describe any individuals soul through their eyes by painting. I admire his potential and ability to do this kind of work, which I find incredibly difficult: Not difficult to paint a persons’ image but to magically create a set of eyes that can say millions of things…

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