Rembrandt van Rijn - The painter of The Night Watch and more

Rembrandt van Rijn is a Dutch painter, etcher and draughtsman from the Dutch Golden Age. He is considered one of the most successful painters in history. One of his most famous paintings is The Night Watch.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn was born in 1606 in Leiden, the ninth child of Harmen Gerritz. van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsdr. van Zuytbrouck. His father was a miller, something that was well-earned in this period. 

Rembrandt briefly attended the Latin school and was enrolled at the University of Leiden, but chose instead to become a painter. For three years he was studied under painter Jacob van Swanenburg. Both Van Swanenburg and his later teacher Pieter Lastman took great inspiration from Italian art. For this reason, many Italian influences can be found in Rembrandt’s works, although the artist himself never visited Italy. Michelangelo Caravaggio had an especially great influence on Rembrandt’s work.

Rembrandt’s Leiden period (1625-1631)

After Rembrandt had worked for a short time in Amsterdam, he opened a gallery in Leiden together with his friend Jan Lievens. In 1627 he also took on his first pupils, including the aforementioned Gerard Dou.

Rembrandt became increasingly famous. In 1630, he sold his first etchings and in 1631 he received several commissions from, among others, the famous physician Nicolaes Tulp, whom he painted in 1632 in The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt’s first group portrait.

In these years (1640-1642) Rembrandt painted The Night Watch

In 1642 Rembrandt completed his large group portrait of members of an Amsterdam militia company, which would later be known as The Night Watch. By setting up this group portrait as a historical piece with great vividness and action, it revolutionised the formula of the group portrait and became the pre-eminent symbol of the Dutch Golden Age.

Why is it called The Night Watch?

Rembrandt kept the painting fairly dark, allowing him to use lighting effects to draw attention to certain areas. Discolouration of the varnish made the painting much darker still, so that it was wrongly assumed that the scenario in the painting takes place at night. This is how, in the 18th century, it acquired the nickname The Night Watch.


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