Arts Everyday Living: Seeing Creatively Through an Artist’s Eyes-Rembrandt, Soul Portraits

Happy New Year!  How would you like to start 2024 in a new, creative way?

Every Wednesday and Saturday, we will be posting an installment of our book, Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively offering you a pathway to art and the vision of the artist. Enabling you to develop your own inner creativity and apply it to the personal cycle of everyday living.



II. The Journey to Art


Creative Routines, part 4 


Artistic Companion: Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Fast Facts:

Although Rembrandt van Rijn lived some four hundred years ago, he is still considered the greatest portraitist in the history of Western art.  Why? Because he is able to capture not only the physical appearance of his sitter or subject, but the spirit, even the soul.

Born in 1606, into the newly independent Netherlands, he lived until his early twenties in Leiden, where his father was a miller. Although establishing an artistic reputation in Leiden, Rembrandt decided to move to Amsterdam. It was here, in the dynamic capital of the young nation, that Rembrandt would spend the rest of his life. Initially, he was successful, fulfilling portrait commissions for the leading citizens of the city, often businessmen or officials. He also married well, to Saskia, the wealthy cousin of the art dealer in whose house he was living. Soon Rembrandt bought a mansion, a symbol of his prosperity and status in the community.

But by Rembrandt’s late thirties, his wife had died, survived by only one child, Titus. Rembrandt seems to have turned increasingly inward as he approached middle age, focusing on subjects more of his own choosing. Yet, portraiture remained a constant in his artistic career, particularly the patriarchs and saints of the Bible, as well as his own self portraits. Eventually, he would be forced into bankruptcy, just one of a number of losses including the death of his beloved mistress Hendrickje and his son Titus.

What is a Rembrandt Portrait?

Although Rembrandt painted landscapes and still lifes, it is the human face that fully expresses his genius. No matter what the subject’s age or background, each individual is illuminated by a golden light. The candlelight of a long ago century, that flickers miraculously across the sitter’s features, inevitably revealing the depth of the heart. These portraits of pigment and canvas seem about to speak, whether the complacent businessman of Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, the flirtatious servant girl, or the contemplative apostle. Sometimes the subject’s gaze is steady, engaging you directly, in other cases, he or she might look away, preoccupied, lost in private reverie. Inevitably the human subject is surrounded by the darkness of endless space a symbol of infinity and eternity.

The Rembrandt Gallery

Portrait of a Boy, 1655-60, oil on canvas, The Norton Simon Foundation

A child’s face is universal. Generations may change, the son soon becoming a father, but smiles remain constant regardless of the historical period or era. Attire, too, is unimportant—in this case, a doublet as well as a plumed cap that barely covers the subject’s locks. The child speaks to you without words. His lively eyes, the primary communicators, respond solely to you.

Is he Titus, Rembrandt’s only boy? Was his mother Rembrandt’s beloved wife Saskia, whose early death was said to have devastated the artist? The answer once was yes, but recent research now challenges that assumption. Yet, wouldn’t it be a bit more satisfying to think otherwise?





Copyright 2010: Joan Hart, Museum One, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented including photocopying, recording and information storage and retrieval without permission from the publisher.

ISBN 9780615301884

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