Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Amsterdam: Success, Bankruptcy, and a Developing Style

Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1632, where he became established as a portrait painter with his group portrait Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632; The Hague), a traditional subject to which he gave radical treatment. His commissioned portraits include those of Minister Johannes Elison and his wife (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston) and Nicolas Ruts (Frick Coll., New York City). His position in Amsterdam was further solidified by the dowry and social connections gained by his joyous marriage to Saskia van Ulyenburgh, a burgomaster's daughter.

Affluent and successful, he began to collect numerous works of art, costumes, and curiosities, always learning from the art and often using the costumes in his portraits. During this period his style acquired a new richness of color and greater plasticity of form. He incorporated the vigor, opulence, and drama of the baroque movement, best seen in The Sacrifice of Abraham (St. Petersburg) and The Blinding of Samson (1636, Frankfurt). His studio was filled with pupils, including Jacob Backer, Govaert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol, and later the gifted Carel Fabritius and Nicholas Maes.

Serious financial difficulties began for Rembrandt with his purchase of an impressive house in 1639. Saskia died in 1642 after the birth of their only surviving child, Titus, who was later to become Rembrandt's favorite portrait subject. During the same year he completed his most famous group portrait, The Shooting Company of Capt. Frans Banning Cocq (Rijksmus.) This work is traditionally called The Night Watch, although a cleaning in 1946–47 revealed a daylight setting. In this work and others instead of painting a conventional group portrait, Rembrandt made of it a crowd spectacle, sacrificing individual identities to dramatic, high-contrast lighting.

During the 1640s Rembrandt developed an enduring interest in landscape. He made numerous etchings, including Three Trees and Christ Healing the Sick, executed with exceptional spontaneity and vigor, and created many works solely for his own pleasure, an unusual practice for his time. This, together with his art collecting, eventually caused financial ruin.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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