Rembrandt: From Sacred to Profane

May 17, 2011 - Aug 21, 2011

Descent from the Cross

Rembrandt van Rijn is one of the most celebrated artists in history. Born in Leiden in 1606, Rembrandt rose to stardom in Amsterdam as a painter of portraits and historical narratives—particularly religious scenes.

A highly productive artist (it is estimated that he created 300 paintings, just under 300 etchings, and over 2000 drawings) he was, and still is, celebrated for his attention to detail, his constant curiosity and experimentation, and his unerring ability to infuse his works with a humanity and remarkable empathy for the human condition that has rarely been equaled.

A master printmaker as well as a painter, Rembrandt exploited the etching medium to its fullest. Although he also worked in engraving and drypoint, it was the freedom of etching that allowed him the full expression of his creative ideas. For an experimental mind, printmaking offered a luxury of indulgence that painting could never provide. An image created on a copper plate could be printed and then the plate reworked numerous times with printings made after each stage or “state,” resulting in tangible examples of each idea along the way.

Rembrandt experimented with the inking and wiping of his copper plates to create tonal effects that would shape the dramatic character of his scenes. For the same reason, he also experimented with different types of papers (from thin Japanese papers to vellum); in some, the ink would penetrate the paper deeply, while in others, it would lie largely diffused over the surface.

The result of these techniques was contrary to other artists and to conventional thinking about the printing process: with Rembrandt, individual sheets printed from the same plate can often possess a distinctively unique quality.

The etchings in this exhibition, from the collection of Wynetka Ann King Reynolds and Thomas H. Kirschbaum, MD, demonstrate Rembrandt’s inexhaustible curiosity in humanity and its potential as subject matter.

The exhibition includes examples from traditional subjects, such as his famous Christ Healing the Sick (also known as the Hundred Guilder Print) and portraits, to more mundane images, like the Beggar with a Stick, nude studies and the so-called “Man Making Water.”

These latter subjects were particularly suited to the print medium because they could be created cheaply and sold to a more middle-class clientele who relished these intimate scenes of everyday life.

Location: On view in the Mamie and William Andrew Treadway, Jr., Gallery 15