Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits

In early 2005, the National Gallery of Art brought together for the first time Rembrandt van Rijn's powerful late portraits of religious figures, executed at a time of great personal turmoil. Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits offered a unique opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating aspects of the Dutch master's artistic career--his brooding and pensive religious images from the late 1650s and early 1660s. The have raised compelling questions about their creation and purpose, as well as their relationships to each other and to Rembrandt's life and career.

The exhibition of 17 paintings gathered from public and private collections in the United States and Europe wason view in the newly reinstalled Dutch galleries of the West Building, January 30 through May 1, 2005, and then traveled to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, where it was on view from June 7 through August 28, 2005.

Throughout Rembrandt's long and productive career in Leiden and Amsterdam, he returned repeatedly to the Bible as a source of inspiration. His paintings, drawings, and etchings depicted not only scenes and personalities from the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, but also those found in the New Testament, particularly those centered on the life of Christ.

Christ c. 1657-1661 oil on canvas, 134.62 x 116.21 cm (43 x 35 1/2 in.) The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York

In the exhibition, many of the dramatic portraits depict Christ and the Virgin,

Rembrandt van Rijn The Apostle Paul, c. 1657 oil on canvas, 131.5 x 104.4 cm (51 3/4 x 41 1/8) framed: 177.8 x 150.5 x 13.3 cm (70 x 59 1/4 x 5 1/4) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection

The Apostle Bartholomew 1657 oil on canvas, 122.7 x 99.7 cm (48 5/16 x 39 1/4 in.) The Putnam Foundation, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego

The Evangelist Matthew and the Angel 1661 oil on canvas, 96 x 81 cm (37 13/16 x 31 7/8 in.) Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Apostle James the Major 1661 oil on canvas, 94 x 79.6 cm (37 x 31 5/16 in). Private collection (He is depicted clothed as a pilgrim; note the scallop shell on his shoulder and his staff and pilgrim's hat beside him his symbol is also the carpenter saw.)

The Apostle Simon 1661 oil on canvas, 98.3 x 79 cm (38 11/16 x 31 1/8 in.) Kunsthaus Zürich

but there are also representations of the Apostles who devoted their lives to spreading the Gospel, among them Paul, Bartholomew, James, and Simon, and a number of the Evangelists, monks, and later saints.

Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul 1661 oil on canvas, 91 x 77 cm (35 13/16 x 30 5/16 in.) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

They include a self-portrait of the artist as the Apostle Paul

Hendrickje Stoffels (as the Sorrowing Virgin?) 1660 oil on canvas, 78.4 x 68.9 cm (30 7/8 x 27 1/8 in.) Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Archer M. Huntington, in memory of his father, Collis Potter Huntington

and Rembrandt's last-known portrait of his companion Hendrickeje Stoffel, possibly a depiction of the Sorrowing Virgin, both painted in 1661. The men and women in these powerful images peer out of the dark recesses of dimly-lit interiors, burdened by the weight of their spiritual and emotional concerns. Executed shortly after Rembrandt's financial crises of the mid-1650s, when his expressive style of painting was no longer in demand by Amsterdam's elite, these half-length portrayals reflect Rembrandt's profound understanding of both the human and iconic character of their personalities. He renders not only their physical features but also the state of their psychological being.

For more than 80 years scholars have postulated that these religious portraits formed part of a series. By seeing these paintings together much could have been learned bout Rembrandt's painting techniques, particularly about the myriad of ways he applied his paint and modeled his forms to create his imposing images. The exhibition may also have raised broader issues surrounding the nature of Rembrandt's workshop during this period of his career.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Rembrandt was born in Leyden in 1606 to a Calvinist miller and a baker's daughter from a Catholic family, the youngest of at least ten children. He attended Latin School and began his career with a certain degree of knowledge about 17th -century Italian art, based on his training with masters who had worked in Italy. He achieved fame in his twenties with his paintings of historical and religious subjects and concentrated on landscape painting in the late 1630s.

In 1631 he moved to Amsterdam, where he achieved tremendous success and attracted numerous lucrative portrait commissions, culminating with the celebrated painting known as The Night Watch, which he executed in 1642, the same year his wife Saskia died. They had four children, but only Titus, born in 1941, survived infancy. Rembrandt could never remarry as stipulated in Saskia's will. In 1649 he entered a lifelong relationship with his son Titus' wet nurse Hendrickje Stoffels, a relationship that negatively affected their social standing.

The late 1650s, the years in which Rembrandt began to focus on these portraits of religious figures, were extremely difficult. He was forced to declare financial insolvency in 1656 and auctioned off his art collection and household possessions. Younger Amsterdam artists largely deserted Rembrandt's deeply personal manner of painting. Although he remained famous as an artist, Rembrandt faced many personal burdens, including the deaths of Hendrickje and Titus, due to epidemics. On October 4, 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam,

The curator of the exhibition was Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art since 1984, and curator of such major Gallery exhibitions as Johannes Vermeer (1995–1996) and Jan Steen: Painter and Storyteller (1996).


Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits was accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with University of Chicago Press. The 152-page exhibition catalogue includes full-color reproductions and entries for each of the paintings in the exhibition written by Wheelock, Peter C. Sutton, Volker Manuth, and Anne T. Woollett.