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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Rembrandt was a Dutch artist. He was born in 15th July 1606 in Leiden, Netherlands. He was born of a miller, Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn and his wife Cornelia Neeltgen Willemsdr van Zuytbroeck, who was the daughter of a baker.

He had nine siblings, and two of them died in infancy. He was the eighth and last born child. From that, it is clear that he was from a humble background which meant that they had a basic income. Nevertheless, his parents made sure he got quality education and took him to school when he was young.

Rembrandt Early Life

He started school when he was seven years old at the Latin School where he studied for seven years, and when he was only two months to 14 (1960), he was admitted to the University of Leiden. Basic syllabus included a lot of literature with the foundation of speciality in classical and biblical stories. But he did not keep up for long, a few months into the program, he lost interest in school and he quit. Whatever he learnt in the university was not in vain though as he is later on going to be known for his unique choice of theme, which is mostly Biblical. He decided to drop out and chase his dreams, to be a painter.

Working as an Intern with Jacob Isaacsz

At first he began shadowing Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh, a painter who trained in Italy and became his intern (he worked for him in exchange for skills intended to acquire). From him, Rembrandt gathered some useful art skills. After a few years with Jacob (three to be precise), Rembrandt went ahead to study in Amsterdam with Pieter Lastman (1624), who was another great painter known for historical paintings. Rembrandt eventually returned to Leiden after six months, by this time he had learnt a lot and was ready to pass down the knowledge to interested prospects. With that in mind, he started working independently and for the following six years he carefully laid down his foundation. After some time, he decided to take his first students, one of them turned out to be the famous Gerrit Dou.

Friendship with Jan Lievans

During this time, he was a close acquaintance of one of Pieter's students, Jan Lievens. These two became close friends and soon they started working together. Their form of art was somehow identical such that one would easily be confused as to who worked on which painting. Sometimes they even helped each other out in their respective paintings. In 1631, Rembrandt made an important mark in his life when he drew a portrait of Nicolaes Ruts, who was a merchant. This particular painting gave him a leeway to the market and he got quite the recognition and fans from it.

Moving to Amsterdam

Around the same period, Rembrandt made some important choices. First he moved to Amsterdam where he was living previously and had made himself quite the reputation. Then he got engaged to Saskia van Uijlenburgh, who was the cousin to another prosperous artist. That improved both his personal and career life, this engagement got him a beautiful bride to be and also contacts to wealthy personas who had interest in arts that in turn got him a lot of connections and exposure to the art world.

Rembrandt as a Teacher

Due to his stature as a good art teacher, his gallery was full of aspiring students, including some were already skilled artists (e.g. Carel Fabritius). In 1634 he married his fiancée after being engaged to her for more than a year, and in 1639, the two established themselves a lovely house in the Breestaat where he made most his works. The house at the moment is a museum called Rembrandthius.

Rembrandt and his Wealth

Rembrandt became quite wealthy and like any other well-off man at that time, he started collecting some costumes, works of art, and other peculiar stuff from different distant places. He used some of these items as an inspiration to his art work and etchings. His work in his late twenties and early thirties were the climax of his artwork, they were at the peak and that made it seem like an open challenge to other reputed painters during those times, like Peter Paul Rubens. Some of his work in that period are included in Passion of Christ, some scenes. A scene in particular is that of Angel appearing to Shepherds.

Rembrandt's Landscape Phase

Around the 1640's, he started showing some remarkable interest in landscape, this "landscape phase" lasted for something close to twenty years. This could be witnessed in some sequential drawings and etchings that followed the development of this interest. It can be observed in View of Amsterdam which was etched in 1640 and the little painting Winter Landscape (1646).

Difficulties Hit Rembrandt's Home

As if life wanted to slow his prosperity down, Rembrandt faced some difficulties short after his consecutive successes. Saskia gave birth to four children in the period 1635-1641. Three of the children died in infancy. Only the last born, Titus, survived. She (Saskia) died in June 1642, when she was only 30. Geertge Dircx was brought in to take of Titus and after a while on comes Hendrickje Stoffels who poses as his housekeeper (around 1649). It is not clear when but she became his common-law wife shortly. She was the model of most of his paintings. Together, some believe that they had a daughter by the name Cornelia who was born in 1654, this however is not a common knowledge.

Rembrandt Goes Bankrupt

In spite of his widely known successful career as a painter, an art dealer and a teacher, his hard to break habit of living an extravagant life caused him to be declared bankrupt in 1656. This could have also been influenced by the first Anglo-Dutch War which lasted from 1652 to 1654. The full blown effect could be seen in 1653. Due to this, he was forced to auction a good share of his most prized collections and antiques so that he could pay off some of his debts. He even went as far as selling the house and in 1660, he moved to a smaller house with his wife and kid(s), and yet it was not enough. And then Hendrickje died in 1663. However, this blow after blow of sad events did not discourage Rembrandt from continuing his work.

On the contrary, it somehow seemed that those events actually motivated him to deepen his artistic skills. Some of the inspiring paintings from that difficult period were; Bathsheba (1654), Ecce homo (1655), Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1656), a self-portrait (1658),The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1661) and The Jewish Bride (1665). The Self-Portrait in particular was unique, it shows Rembrandt seating upright and staring through to us with confidence and in glamorous outfit which had edgily edges. As mentioned earlier, Rembrandt is well known for his biblical themed paintings and unique etchings which seem to be his signature stroke. He is also known for his great combination of shadow and light. Some of his most acknowledged paintings up to nown include:

The Night Watch

This is a painting of a group of militants which was painted in 1642. However, contrary to the title and the general look of the painting, the scene is apparently set during day time.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

It was painted in 1633, the scene has a biblical theme and it shows the events that took place when Jesus calmed the storm. This painting was stolen in 1990 and it has been missing for two decades.

Self-Portrait with two circles

This was painted between the years 1659-1665. No one knows for sure what the two circles behind him are trying to imply or what message he was trying to get to his viewers or it was meant to make the self-portrait unique.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

This one was painted in 1632. It portrays the Dutch surgeon and Dr Nicolaes Tulp, who later on became the mayor of Amsterdam, having an anatomy lesson on the dead body of a criminal. They were examining the muscles and bones of the arm.

Bathsheba at her bath

This is another biblical themed painting. As the name suggests, it was a painting of Bathsheba, who was the wife of Uriah being bathed by her personal maid. At the scene, the maid was washing the feet of Bathsheba. This painting is now displayed at the Louvre Museum located in Paris.


It was completed in 1636. It is a nude painting, one of the best, and it is the most celebrated piece. It is a drawing of Danaë, the mother of Perseus. Perseus is a mythical Greek hero.

The Conspiracy of Claudius Civils

It was painted around 1661-1662. It portrays Claudius Civils, the leader of the Batavian Rebellion, and the Batavian chiefs who were giving an assurance of joining the rebellion against the Roman Empire.

The Sampling Officials

This shows a group painting of critics whose job was to examine the quality of materials offered by the local weavers to the guild members.

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Another biblical themed story, it shows the prodigal son (the lost son) kneeling before his father showing remorse and regret while begging for his father's forgiveness. It was completed some short period before the painter's death.

Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph

This one as I had mentioned before, was one of the most influential paintings which he'd painted during his difficult period, just right after he was declared bankrupt. The piece itself also has a biblical theme, it shows, Jacob who is blessing Joseph's two sons, Joseph and Joseph's wife (who Rembrandt decided to add for records sake but was not mentioned int the bible as per that event.

In September 1668, his only son Titus also passes on. Rembrandt continued to paint as a solitary man and his last complete painting is a Self-Portait dated 1669 which is also the year he passed on. He died on 4th October 1669 in Amsterdam. When he died, there was an incomplete painting on his easel, which clearly he was working on, the painting is Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple.