Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) was a Dutch painter and printmaker of the Dutch Golden Age. He came from a quite well-off miller’s family that could afford to send him to Latin school and university. Yet, he was always drawn more to the arts. After a short, but important apprenticeship with a famous painter of his time, Pieter Lastman, in Amsterdam, Rembrandt opened his own workshop in Leiden in the mid 1620s. He secured himself the patronage of Constantijn Huygens, who used his connections to procure him important commissions from the Dutch court, not least from Prince Frederik Hendrik himself.
In late 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam and became a successful portrait painter. He married a daughter from a good family and moved into a fancy house in a fashionable area (it became part of Amsterdam’s flourishing Jewish quarter) – the financing of the house would later become his financial downfall, adding to personal tragedy. Though he had a big income – he was by that time a burgess of Amsterdam, a member of the local guild of painters and a popular artist in a period of great wealth and cultural achievements – he was a big spender and unsuccessful investor as well.
He bought art (often bidding up his own work), prints and rarities beyond his financial abilities. His collection was sold to avoid bankruptcy, yet never reached a high enough price to match his debts. So, in 1660 he lost house and printing press along with the right to trade as a painter (to get around this Rembrandt became an employee of his son and common law wife). The last nine years of his life he still worked on major commissions for portraits and other things and was highly reputed as an artist and teacher, yet he died in relative poverty and was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
Rembrandt is called “one of the great prophets of civilization” due to his deeply felt passion for humankind that shows throughout his work at any period. He knew his iconography and his Bible and often used the Jews from his neighborhood to pose for scenes from the Old Testament. He seamlessly melded the earthly and spiritual in often dramatic and lively presentations. His work is characterized by a theatrical employment of light and shadow as known from Caravaggio and less rigid formality in composition than his contemporaries. His style evolved over the years from a fine, smooth mannered technique with emphasis on details to a rough treatment of richly variegated paint surfaces, where the tactile quality of the paint alone already gives an impression of dimensionality. This development was contrary to that prevalent in art where Baroque let to decorative Rococo.