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Rembrandt. History Painter

Madrid 10/15/2008 - 1/6/2009

Rembrandt (1606-1669) is one of the most personal painters in the entire history of European art. From his beginnings in Leiden to his death in Amsterdam, his painting is a constant quest for representing human emotions as incisively and movingly as possible. This exhibition focuses on his biblical and historical paintings. On the scale of values of Rembrandt and his contemporaries, these were the most important themes a painter could address. They were also his best vehicle for showing how people reacted to dramatic situations and, accordingly, for exploring the human condition.

The exhibition features works from all the periods in Rembrandt’s career. In his early paintings, the gestures of the human figures are extroverted and their gaze is often mocking and jocular. In his mature works, the emotions are more suppressed and the emphasis is on their mental energy.

Rembrandt was familiar with the history of European painting through his huge print collection and the Amsterdam art market. Along with works by Rembrandt, the exhibition includes a few paintings by other artists, all from the Museo del Prado collection. The purpose of these works is to help viewers understand the Dutch painter. Some represent the aesthetic model that guided the painter or to which he reacted. Others are works by contemporaries whose difference from Rembrandt helps comprehend his particular aesthetic. Rembrandt’s art is firmly rooted in the European pictorial tradition. However, his attitude towards this tradition is critical: very few artists have been so determined to change it or have done so in such a radical manner.

Alejandro Vergara. Chief Curator of Flemish and Northern Painting at the Museo del Prado


Room A and B. New building in the Museum’s extension

Opening time

Tuesdays to Sundays, 9am to 8pm 24 and 31 December 2008, and 6 January 2009Ticket desks and entrance open until 7.30pm. Galleries emptied 10 minutes before closing time Closed: every Monday, 25 December 2008 and 1 January 2009

Sponsored by:



Leiden. Formative Period, 1620

Leiden. Formative Period, 1620
Two old Men disputing
Oil on panel, 2,4 x 59,7 cm
Melbourne, The National Gallery of Victoria

Rembrandt’s formative period began in Leiden in 1620 and ended when he moved to Amsterdam around 1631. By then he was a successful painter who had taken on his first pupils. There is no single style that characterises Rembrandt’s art during those years, but rather a variety of languages through which the painter sought to express the feelings of the main figures of his compositions.

A few of Rembrandt’s works from the late 1620s show the influence of Rubens (1577-1640), by then the most famous artist in Europe whose oeuvre he was familiar with chiefly through engravings. For over a decade, until approximately 1645, Rubens provided Rembrandt with both an artistic and a professional model to imitate, which spurred his ambition to become a great painter.

Amsterdam, 1631

Amsterdam, 1631
Abduction of Europa. Oil on panel, 62,2 x 77 cm. 1632 Los Angeles, CA, The J. Paul Getty Museum.

When Rembrandt moved his studio from Leiden to Amsterdam around 1631-33, he did so as a partner of the dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh—whose niece Saskia he married in 1634; Uylenburgh sought out customers and the artist executed the pictures and directed a workshop of painters. Rembrandt soon became the most successful artist in the city. Although his fame initially stemmed from his splendid portraits (The Anatomy Lesson in the Museo Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague dates from this period), he also produced many history paintings, the most elite genre. Rembrandt was well versed in the history of European painting from the Renaissance onwards, chiefly through prints, of which he had a large collection. His painting reflects his knowledge of tradition and also his critical attitude towards it: he sought to emulate the great artists of the past, but also aspired to be a great painter with a language of his own.

The influence of Rubens, 1633-1645

The influence of Rubens, 1633-1645
Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Oil on panel, 34 x 48 cm. 1647. Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland.

Rembrandt enjoyed his period of greatest success from his arrival in Amsterdam to approximately 1645. His engravings led his works to be widely disseminated across Europe. Constatijn Huygens’s support procured him commissions from the court of Frederik Hendrik of Orange and Amalia van Solms in The Hague, and he found clients among the haute bourgeoisie of Amsterdam. In 1639 he acquired an elegant, costly house in Sint Antonisbreestraat in Amsterdam. He finished painting The Night Watch (Amsterdam, Rijksmueum) in 1642 and his wife Saskia died that same year.

These are the years in which Rembrandt’s manner of painting comes closest to that of Rubens, whom he emulates without ceasing in his quest for a language of his own. In his paintings Rembrandt combines intensity and drama with a feeling of proximity, and revels in the textures of materials.

Calm and Psicological Concentration, 1645-1663

Calm and Psicological Concentration, 1645-1663
Bathsheba. Oil on canvas, 142 x 142 cm. 1654. Paris, Musée du Louvre.

Beginning in approximately 1645, a radical change can be witnessed in Rembrandt’s style. The extroverted expressions and dynamism of his compositions give way to calm and psychological concentration. The physical vigour that is characteristic of Rembrandt’s earlier human figures is transformed into spiritual vigour. In many areas of the paintings thick brushstrokes hint at forms rather than defining them. The importance Rembrandt attaches to an apparently unfinished execution in his final years is surprising. According to Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719), one of Rembrandt’s earliest biographers, the artist stated that “a painting is finished when the master has achieved his aims”. With this statement Rembrandt asserted his independence as a creator and also his belief that the aims of painting go beyond merely capturing the appearance of things.



The Rape of Europa

Oil on panel, 62.2 x 77 cm


Los Angeles, CA, The J. Paul Getty Museum


Two old Men disputing

Oil on panel, 2,4 x 59,7 cm


Melbourne, The National Gallery of Victoria


Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Oil on panel, 34 x 48 cm


Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland


David playing the Harp before Saul

Oil on panel, 62.2 x 50.5 cm

ca. 1629-1630

Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie


Moses with the Tablets of the Law

Oil on canvas, 168 x 135 cm

Ca. 1659

Berlin, Gemäldegalerie


Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The three Crosses

Drypoint and engraving, (fourth state), 385 x 450 mm


New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc.41.1.33, Gift of Felix M. Warburg and his family, 1941


Self-Portrait as Zeuxis

Oil on canvas, 82.5 x 65 cm

Ca. 1663 - 1664

Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum - Fondation Corboud 


Judas giving back the 30 Silver Coins

Oil on panel, 79 x 102.3 cm


Private collection


Saint Peter denying Christ

Oil on panel, 154 x 169 cm


Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


The Apostle Paul

Oil on canvas, 131.5 x 104.4 cm

Late 1650s

Washington DC, National Gallery of Art



Oil on canvas, 137 x 116 cm


Private collection, New York


Jeremiah lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem

Oil on panel, 58.3 x 46.6 cm


Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


The Holy Family

Oil on canvas, 183.5 x 123 cm


Munich, Alte Pinakothek


Self-portrait in Oriental Dress

Oil on panel, 81 x 54 cm


Paris, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais


Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

Oil on panel, 23 x 30 cm


Los Angeles, CA, The J. Paul Getty Museum


Christ before Pilate

Etching and engraving (second state; B. 77, II), 54.9 x 44.7 cm


Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection


The Descent from the Cross

Etching (second State), 513 x 410 mm


Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional



Oil on canvas, 100 x 91.8 cm

Ca. 1654

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Christ driving the Money-changers from the Temple

Oil on panel, 43.1 x 33 cm


Moscow, The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts



Oil on panel, 47.2 x 38.6 cm


The Hague, Mauritshuis Royal Cabinet of Paintings


Christ Presented to the People

Drypoint (eighth state), 358 x 455 mm


Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


The Holy Family

Oil on canvas, 117 x 91 cm


Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum


Ecce Homo

Oil on paper attached to canvas, 54.5 x 44.5 cm


London, National Gallery


Simeon in the Temple

Oil on panel, 60.9 x 47.8 cm


The Hague, Mauritshuis Royal Cabinet of Paintings


Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery

Oil on panel, 83.8 x 65.4 cm


London, National Gallery


The Stoning of Saint Steven

Oil on panel, 89.5 x 123.6 cm


Lyon, Musée des Beaux Arts


Saint Peter in Prison

Oil on panel, 59.1 x 47.8 cm


Jerusalem, Israel Museum


Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross

Oil on paper attached to panel, 31.9 x 26.7 cm


London, National Gallery



Oil on panel, 25 x 21.5 cm

ca. 1650-1652

Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Gemäldegalerie


The Circumcision

Oil on canvas, 56.5 x 75 cm


Washington DC, National Gallery of Art



Oil on canvas, 127 x 97.5 cm


New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Samson and Delilah

Oil on canvas, 206 x 276 cm


Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie


Young Woman at her Toilet

Oil on canvas, 108 x 92 cm

Ca. 1633

Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada


Christ healing the Sick (the Hundred Guilder Print)

Drypoint and engraving, 278 x 388 mm

Ca. 1648

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum



Oil on canvas, 142 x 142 cm


Paris, Musée du Louvre


The Marriage of Samson

Oil on canvas, 126.5 x 175.5 cm


Dresden, Gemäldegalerie


The Apostle Bartholomew

Oil on canvas, 122.7 x 99.7cm


San Diego, CA, The Timken Museum of Art


Belshazzar’s feast

Oil on canvas, 167.6 x 209.2 cm


London, National Gallery


The Burial of Christ

Oil on canvas, 92.6 x 68.9 cm

Ca. 1636-39

Munich, Alte Pinakothek

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