Famous Painters and Paintings: Rembrandt Van Rijn

About the famous painter Rembrandt Van Rijn, his biography and history of the artist's life.


Few would question the statement that Rembrandt was among the greatest painters of all time. But about his relations with friends and pupils, his behavior and character in his lifetime, there is a wide difference of opinion. Reacting against earlier romantic accounts of Rembrandt, some modern biographers have undertaken to debunk him to the point of distorting both his person and his life. Actually Rembrandt, the man and the artist, was a heroic, tragic figure of uncommon depth and intensity, a nonconformist as well as a rebel.

Rembrandt was born in Leyden, the son of a well-to-do miller. He went to grammar school and then briefly to the university. A 3-year apprenticeship to a local painter gave him his technical background, and a brief period in Amsterdam with an Italian-trained artist brought him into contact with the style of the late Renaissance. At the age of 25, Rembrandt left Leyden for Amsterdam. There he quickly achieved a career as a portrait painter, and married the wealthy Saskia van Uylenburgh, who brought him position and fortune. The young couple lived extravagantly--purchasing an expensive house with sleeping quarters and studios for pupils, as well as space for the works of art and curios that Rembrandt liked to collect. In spite of his large income, debts began to pile up. The death of 3 children in infancy, followed by that of his wife in 1642, left Rembrandt alone with a 4th child--Titus--only 9 months old. After some years, problems multiplied. His popularity with the public declined. Then his creditors seized and sold his house, putting his collection up for auction. Only the help of his loyal mistress Hendrickje Stoffels and his son Titus saved him from utter ruin. They made an arrangement by which he would nominally be an employee of their art-dealing firm, and as such, he painted his last great masterpieces. But these faithful companions died before him, and when his life came to an end in 1669, he left no property other than some old clothes and painting tools.

It was recently learned that, following the death of his wife, Saskia, another woman had appeared in Rembrandt's life. Geertge Dircks, the young widow of a trumpeter, was brought into the house to look after little Titus. For the keenly alive and passionate Rembrandt, this marked the commencement of a new love affair, which was broken off in 1649 under painful circumstances. Little is known about the role Geertge played in Rembrandt's life--save that she was his paramour and he was enamored of her. So much so that he made her a present of Saskia's ring and her other costly jewels and ornaments. It is because of these riches that we are able to learn more about the end of the story. Geertge, who departed in 1649 after violent scenes of jealousy and quarreling, started a lawsuit against Rembrandt on the grounds of broken promises of marriage. When she lost the suit Geertge sought consolation in the dissolute life of Amsterdam, giving Rembrandt the opportunity to have her shut up in a house of correction for being a prostitute.

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