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Rembrandt van Rijn

A self-portrait drawing by Rembrandt depicting the artist leaning on a wall and looking back over his shoulder.

Rembrandt van Rijn. Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639. Gift of Stanley Field.

Also known as
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Rembrandt, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rhijn Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rhijn, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 伦勃朗·哈尔曼松·凡·莱茵
Date of birth
Date of death

A beloved interpreter of the human experience, Rembrandt van Rijn boldly reimagined the language of 17th-century art by combining close observation from life with the artistic theory of the day. The results proclaimed a new level of emotional intensity across all genres. 

Born in Leiden, Rembrandt attended the Latin School there and registered for two years at the city’s university before undertaking his painting apprenticeships. The second of these, with the Amsterdam master Pieter Lastman, introduced him to the latest trends in Italy, which would shape his approach to narrative painting for years to come. Unlike many of his peers, Rembrandt never traveled abroad but worked solely in the Dutch Republic. He promoted his reputation through an innovative and recognizable handling of paint, the creation of a body of compelling and widely circulated prints, and by cultivating knowledgeable connoisseurs internationally.

Rembrandt’s extraordinary talent was evident early in his career. He likely executed Old Man with a Gold Chainan anchor of the Art Institute’s collection, around the time he moved from Leiden to Amsterdam. The painting reveals the artist’s ability to achieve visual drama through costume, facial expression, and pose, and, as such, it counts among his most elegant character studies. Along with his colleague and competitor Jan Lievens, Rembrandt transformed such studies, which had traditionally been used to refine skills in the workshop, into products for the open market.

Rembrandt achieved his lucid gestures and expressive poses by relentlessly studying the world around him. The Art Institute possesses a magnificent and rare late drawing by the artist, Seated Female Nude, that attests to his unwavering pursuit of nature. Using a number of single but confident lines to define the woman’s form, he articulates her plumpness with a minimal application of wash, not idealizing her form but reveling in its soft contours.

Rembrandt was also celebrated during his lifetime for his intricate etchings, including his Hundred Guilder Print. It reportedly sold for the princely sum of 100 guilders within five years of its creation. Its complex composition teems with dozens of figures from across the social spectrum. The artist’s masterful command of the etched medium produces a microcosm of humankind, unified by a delicate and symbolic light. 

The Art Institute celebrated Rembrandt’s skill as a painter of the human experience in the 2019 exhibition Rembrandt Portraits and highlighted his drawings and prints in the larger context of the 17th century in the 2019–20 exhibition Rubens, Rembrandt, and Drawing in the Golden Age.

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