Read on to learn about Rembrandt’s stylistic traits and the kinds of subjects that intrigued him.
1. Night Watch
Rembrandt’s most famous work is the Night Watch, a painting of epic proportions and one of the most famous artworks of the Dutch Golden Age. This daring work from 1642 broke new ground for its perception of motion and its dramatic use of contrast. The painting is currently the focus of a major research project, Operation Night Watch, where, in full view of Rijksmuseum visitors, the painting will be studied using cutting-edge technology to reveal a deeper history.
2. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp
Effectively a group portrait of seven surgeons and the physician Nicolaes Tulp, this painting depicts an annual public autopsy, commonly held in winter to avoid the stench of putrefaction. Anatomy lessons were designed to provide doctors with a greater understanding of the human body, however there were ticketed public sessions once per year. Rembrandt masterfully composed the image to draw attention to Dr. Tulp and the body splayed before him. It dates from 1632 making it one of Rembrandt’s early works. See it at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
3. Portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit
These full-length wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit have always hung side by side despite being painted individually. Rembrandt didn’t often paint full-length portraits of such a large scale making this pair unusual. The paintings set a record price when sold in 2015, with the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre Museum purchasing them jointly.
4. St. Peter in Prison (Kneeling)
For the first time in 120 years, St. Peter in Prison (Kneeling) will be on show in the Netherlands as part of a unique exhibition at the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam. The exhibition considers Rembrandt's remarkable talent for portraying mood and spirituality through light and shadow. This method was a radical shift away from what was typical for the time resulting in a revealing portrait brimming with emotion.
5. Landscape with Three Trees
Widely accepted as one of Rembrandt’s most accomplished pieces, Landscape with Three Trees is a technically complex etching. It’s one of 26 landscape etchings attributed to Rembrandt, and is also the largest and most elaborate. It shows the artist’s knack for portraying spirituality with its reference to the crucifixion of Christ.
6. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Religion was a recurring theme for Rembrandt. For this stunning image depicting the miracle of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, the master’s deft hand at rendering contrast is clear. What’s unbearably sad is that it’s Rembrandt’s only seascape and in 1990 it, along with 12 other works, were stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The mystery remains unsolved to this day.
7. The Return of the Prodigal Son
This painting is among Rembrandt’s last works. It’s depiction of the parable of the prodigal son is as beautiful as it is haunting. Adored by critics for its moving and quiet quality, it depicts a tenderness in the father/son relationship that creates an intimate bond between the image and the viewer.
8. A Woman Bathing at a Stream
Rembrandt’s knack for realistically portraying subjects is at its height in A Woman Bathing in a Stream. Keen observation is at play in this intimate scene of a woman bathing. While there are clear classical references, the rendering of the figure was unconventional for the time as it eschewed idealised form. It is one of Rembrandt’s most engaging portraits.
Painted in 1636 and reworked later by Rembrandt, this depiction of Danaë from Greek mythology has a fascinating history. Danaë was originally modelled on Rembrandt’s wife Saskia, but later changed to his mistress Geertje Dircx when it was reworked in the 1640s. The large painting has been cut down in size and has been in the Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg’s collection since the 18th century. In 1985 the painting was slashed and doused in sulfuric acid by vandals. Quick-thinking restoration work saved the painting despite it suffering considerable damage.
10. Self-Portrait with Two Circles
More than any other artist at the time, Rembrandt was a master of the self-portrait. He regularly turned his attention to himself where he studied his own face intimately leaving behind a rich selection of paintings, drawings and etchings that effectively show him aging from his youth right through to his later years. In Self-Portrait with Two Circles we see the aging master holding the tools of his trade, wearing a fur-lined robe as he asserts his genius.