Self-Portait, 1659

Rembrandt Self Portait 1659

Since Rembrandt’s 407th birthday was on Monday, I figured now would be as good a time as any to do another art post, as I really enjoy them even though it takes me forever to create one. Pretty much everyone has heard of the painter Rembrandt. His name brings up the image of some of his more famous works, such as The Nightwatch or one of his many self – portraits. If you would like to know more about the artist, check out this biography. I was first exposed to Rembrandt the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, when I took my first European trip. I was born in Germany and lived there for a few years, but this is the first trip that I remember. We had gone to the Rijksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, and I had briefly seen The Nightwatch by Rembrandt on a whirlwind tour through the museum. I was amazed that one painting could be so enormous, as it took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. I didn’t get to examine it in thoroughly until about four years later, while on Spring Break during my Study-Abroad to Italy. Around this time, my mom became totally enthralled with his version of Return of the Prodigal Son , and had a large poster of it in her office when she was a parish priest. I also viewed his work and others like it for a Chiuroscuro exhibition at the Rembrandt House . This was where the artist lived and worked for about 20 years before it became too much of a financial burden, and it is now a museum. During my undergraduate degree in Art History, I took a class on Baroque art which featured his art along with many other artists.

For this blog post, I plan on examining this famous artist by discussing key aspects of his life, in particular his relationships with others. In particular, I would like to focus on his wife Saskia, his son Titus and his mistress/common law wife Hendrickje. I would also like to discuss two of his most famous works, The Nightwatch and The Jewish Bride (Isaac and Rebecca) because I enjoy them, but will do so in a separate post.

He met Saskia through her cousin Hendrick, in whose house Rembrandt was living in 1633, and she became a regular sitter for his artwork. She died of Tuberculosis in 1642, and their son Titus was born just seven months before her death. In addition to making him Titus’s sole guardian, Saskia’s will also, according to this paper from the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, “dictated (as was usual) that Rembrandt would forfeit his interest in Saskia’s property if he ever remarried; for whatever reason, he never did.” The painting I would like to examine is one that he completed only a year after they got married. It is entitled Saskia van Uylenburgh in Arcadian Costume. According to this blog post on the two of them, “Rembrandt has dressed her as a deity of youth, rebirth and beauty, along with her rustic shepherdess’s staff. This idyllic and pastoral setting was very popular with the upper-class Dutch society in the early seventeenth century. They had a love of all things to do with the romantic ideal of life in the countryside which they perceived as unadulterated bliss.”

Saskia van Ulylenburgh in Arcadian Costume, 1635


 I’ve always been fascinated by Saskia, as he always seems to paint her with almost ethereal quality with her light-colored hair in a halo around her head. They were only married a very short time but he seems to think of her as the love of his life and is devastated when she dies before the age of 30, and only married for seven years. I guess I am a little curious what she saw in him. After all, all though he seemed to have a good education, he came from a less prosperous family (his father was a miller) than her very large wealthy family. Not to say he’s a bum or a mooch, but it is hard for people from two social classes to get along properly at times. It is interesting to note that her family approved of the match, but his family did not because of religious reasons (he cut ties with them after this). Obviously from the viewpoint of Rembrandt it was a good match because her cousin Hendrick was a well-known art dealer who helped him advance his career.

Rembrandt’s son Titus is the first living child out of four that his mother Saskia brought into this world. He became a painter like his father and married a silversmith’s daughter. It is interesting to note that the woman he married was a relative of Saskia, Titus’s mother, and was specifically chosen to avoid any further lawsuits from her against Rembrandt, in the future, over money issues. Titus lived to age 27, dying of the plague one year before his father and his wife had a daughter 6 months after that. My favorite painting of him is one that is in the Rijksmuseum, and shows him in a monk’s habit.

Titus van Rijn Dressed in a Monk’s Habit, 1660

Titus van Rijn in a Monk's Habit by Rembrandt

Hendrickje came into Rembrandt’s life originally as his housekeeper/maid. At the time, he was having a relationship with Titus’s nurse Geertje, but it was not as serious as his relationship with Hendrickje, with whom he fathered a child. I did find it sort of amusing on this blog post that “in June 1654 the Council of the Reformed Church of Amsterdam got wind of this relationship and summoned Rembrandt and Hendrickje to stand before them. Rembrandt was not a practicing churchgoer so the matter against him was dropped. Hendrickje however was accused of whoredom and of living with a man, unwed [oh yeah blame the female maid and not her employer]. Being six months pregnant there was little point in denying the charge. Her punishment was being unable to receive communion.” Another part of the reason the church made such a big deal about the two of them was because Hendrickje was 20 years younger than Rembrandt, and she had posed nude for the Bathsheba painting. Hendrickje gave him a daughter in June 1654. She, and possibly Geertje, become his common-law wives.  She died 9 years later, likely of bubonic plague.

For awhile, she was his muse and he painted and probably drew her image multiple times. The most famous painting she posed for was Bathsheba at Her Bath, now in the Louvre. The story is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible. King David is standing on the roof of his palace and sees a beautiful woman taking a bath. He finds out that she is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. David starts lusting after her and sends her a letter asking her to come/summoning her to the palace, where they will eventually consumate their relationship. As soon as he realizes that she is pregnant with his child, David sends Uriah on a deadly battle mission and he is killed in action. The king marries Bathsheba but the child does not survive, as it has been cursed by God, thanks to David’s method of consummation. Normally most versions of this painting show Bathsheba as David first spies her, but Rembrandt sets the scene a bit later, after she gets the summons from the king and is holding it in her hand and trying to decide what to do. Should she be unfaithful to her husband? Or should not even consider this and just be faithful to her king and do his bidding? She is sad in her contemplation, and perhaps a bit guilty. A servant kneels at her feet and washes them. She is surrounded by a golden brocaded robe, and yet holds a simple white shift in her hand. I like that the woman in the painting does not look like a supermodel, but more  like someone’s actual wife. It is as  this article says “The models were no ethereal beauties, but ordinary Dutch women, who could make good use of the money they earned by posing. But Rembrandt also had prints in his collection after paintings by Italians, whose canvases usually represented women of ideal beauty. He put Bathsheba about halfway between the two.”

Bathsheeba at Her Bath, 1654

Bathsheba at Her Bath - Rembrandt 1654