The Late Paintings Of Rembrandt

A comparison some of Rembrandt's later paintings(after Night Watch)with his early works and makes some contrast.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is one of the world's greatest artists. His vivid colors and use of light and shadow are spectacular. His ability to bring characters to life was unmatched. Known simply as Rembrandt, the artist's talent improved as the years went by.

Born in the Netherlands, Rembrandt is Holland's foremost artist. He lived during the 17th century and was born in a small town called Leiden in 1606. In his twenties, he moved to Amsterdam and made a lasting mark on art in his country and abroad. Despite his bankruptcy and reported loss of popularity later in life, he continued to have important commissions throughout his life and left a large inheritance to his family when he passed on.

Famous for painting many topics, Rembrandt left a series of almost one hundred self-portraits which reveal an interesting view of the artist through the years. His early self- portraits of 1629, 1631, and 1635 (with Saskia, his wife) differ dramatically both in mood and depth from his later portraits of 1660 and 1669. The work of 1629 shows a sheepish boy with a veil of darkness and inexperience waiting to be uplifted. It shows exuberance in a variety of unchallenged and ready marks.

Speaking of sheepish, the "Self Portrait in Oriental Costume with a Dog" (1631) is a playful if superficial flight of fancy. As the title suggests, the artist is in an oriental costume in the company of a sheepdog. It is a dark painting with no great use of color, but compositionally interesting as Rembrandt has his arms outstretched and the oriental cape flows from his arms and shoulders. His self portrait of 1635 with his bride, Saskia, shows slightly more depth, but a true zest for life. It is relatively colorful with the artist depicted wearing a sword and holding on to a pint of ale or beer.

Rembrandt's later works give more of a sense of color which the artist has gained from experience. One of the portraits of 1660 is a study and seems to be a statement on the nature of humanity as the artist has painted himself as if he is made of clay with a simple flourish for a hat. It is a brooding work which contrasts with earliere works. The second self portrait of 1660 in which Rembrandt paints himself as a stately gentleman is simple yet brilliant with a wonderful eye for color. This painting incorporates curvilinear elements into the background which may say something about experience or may simply be used for visual detail. In many of the earlier works, Rembrandt is seen with a hat on but only in this work do we see the master with painter's tools, establishing his identity firmly as an artist.

In his final self-portrait (1669), we see the artist in a red outfit resembling a cardinal's robe. Perhaps he was saying that he should have been canonized. Perhaps he is restating his view that religion should play an active role inone's life. It is an ennobling portrait where we see the painter has endured hardship, but still has the vibrancy that he once showed in his youth.

In his twenties, Rembrandt gained early popularity with such paintings as "Descent from the Cross" (1633), "Stoning of St. Stephen" (1625), and "The Blinding of Sampson" (1636). these early works have a great number of people portrayed in action and the first of these three actually includes Rembrandt himself as a character. The three works show a great tide of emotion and humanity. In "Descent from the Cross," the artist shows sympathy and pity for the crucified prophet. The dark scene has Jesus illuminating the group as he is taken down from the Cross and placed into the waiting arms of his disciples. In these and other works Rembrandt demonstrates an understanding of light and shadow which until then only masters such as Caravaggio had known.

The "Stoning of St. Peter" shows furor and violence as does "The Blinding of Sampson." Costume and architecture are secondary to the drama taking place in these scenes. We see faces full of misunderstanding and ignorance and again light emanating form the protagonist of each Biblical story.

On the other hand, we find more orderly and complex works in Rembrandt's later years. "The Night Watch" ("The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq...1642), "The Polish Rider" (1655), and "Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis" ("Oath of the Batavians" 1661-1662). Rembrandt was commissioned to do a portrait of the town council in 1642 and the result was "Night Watch." This most famous work has a dynamic of activity that is found in both "Stoning of St. Peter" and "Blinding," but there is a joy and secularism that isn't found in the other pieces. This flurry of movement and weaponry also shows a different use of color. A few bold splashes of red and ochre enhance this vivid parade. The master has added motion to the portrait which had been unknown until this time.

The popularly named "Polish Rider" is simple in its composition, but extravagant in its use of color. The white horse and the colorful rider contrast with the approaching night and the prominent mountains in the background. This, too, is secular, but the context of the painting does have a religious nature. Eastern European soldiers often rode into battle in the Middle East against hordes of infidels. Character is of utmost importance in this as we see bravery and impatience in the Rider's stance.

In "Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis," Rembrandt employs ciaroscuro as he has in previous works, but the artist uses color to add depth to the painting an creates avery compelling drama. As Da Vinci seats Jesus and the disciples around a long table, the Batavians are placed aat a similar table. Rembrandt departs from the earlier master's composition by using an assymetrical positioning of players creating a dynamic which we have not previously seen. Here also the brushwork is different from earlier works of Rembrandt in that the strokes are larger and more painterly as in his first self portrait in 1660.

Rembrandt had a long career as a painter and artist which spanned almost half a century. As the years went by, his works matured and an added depth can be seen in all of his pieces. From self portraits to commissioned works there is more revealed about the subject and about the artist himself as we look at his later works. A masterful artist, Rembrandt will always be known for his sense of humanity and his understanding of Light on canvas

© High Speed Ventures 2011