From the iconic Night Watch to biblical scenes to self-portraits, Musement shares eight of Rembrandt’s most essential paintings.
An emblem of Holland’s Golden Age, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is considered one of the most important visual artists of all time. One of his work’s signature traits is his implementation of chiaroscuro, a shadow and light technique derived from the great Caravaggio. He produced nearly 300 paintings in his lifetime (as well as hundreds of prints and sketches), and here’s a look at eight of his most famous.
1. The Night Watch, 1642
Though referred to The Night Watch, this painting is also known as Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq or The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. What makes this enormous 11×14 foot depiction so distinct is the portrayal of soldiers in motion as well as the exemplary use of tenebrism, the implication of shadow to create a dark and mysterious aura. Despite its nickname, which it acquired in the 18th century, a 1940s cleaning revealed that it’s actually set during the day. A must-see at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
2. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633
This painting is perhaps best known as one of the victims of the grandest (and still currently) unsolved art crime: the 1990 heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Rembrandt went through a period of portraying various religious scenes, and this depicts a miracle of Jesus. Though all three of the synoptic gospels mention this occurrence, Rembrandt chose to depict Mark’s version. the painting portrays Jesus and his disciples on a boat the Sea of Galilee. They encounter a storm and wake a napping Jesus who then calms the weather so they can carry on with the journey.
3. Danaë, 1636
Danaë was a mortal princess from Greek mythology. Zeus became so infatuated with her that he impregnanted her via a rain shower of gold. She then gave birth to Perseus who, mythology buffs will know, decapitated Medusa the gorgon and rescued Andromeda from a sea monster (all in the same journey!0. Rembrandt’s gorgeous depiction is a testament to his propensity for light. Admire this work at The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
4. Bathsheba at her Bath , 1654
Rembrandt’s depiction of this old testament figure is quite soft and sensual. Bathsheba was married when King David spotted her bathing and lusted after her. She eventually became his wife and the mother of King Solomon. The picture, one of the Louvre’s masterpieces, is widely praised for its realistic, less-idealized portrayal of the female body.
5. The Jewish Bride, 1655
Although an art collector gave this painting its moniker in the 18th century, it’s unclear who the subjects are in the painting. Some speculate that it’s Rembrandt’s son on his wedding day. Whoever they are, Rembrandt manages to capture a beautiful human moment in his typical style. See it at the Rijksmuseum.
6. Self-Portrait with Two Circles, 1665
Rembrandt created nearly 100 self-portraits in his lifetime and this particular painting is quite mysterious. In it, the artist holds his tools and stands between two circles. Though many theories have been posited, no one knows for sure what their presence signifies. Ponder the enigma at Kenwood House in London.
7. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp, 1632
Again, Rembrandt shows he’s a master of dark and light as he portrays seven surgeons receiving an anatomy lesson in the form of an arm dissection. During Rembrandt’s time, public dissections took place once a year using the corpse of an executed criminal. The Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons commissioned this painting for their boardroom, but today it’s found at the Hague.
8. The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667-1669
One of Rembrandt’s final works, The Return of the Prodigal Son is a moving depiction of the defining moment of its namesake biblical parable: the prodigal son returns home and his father welcomes him with open arms. Rembrandt uses shadow and light to capture the emotion, and the work is both moving and magical. You can also see this at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.