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Rembrandt is considered one of the greatest painters of all time. He is best known for his many portraits of himself and of other people. These portraits reveal Rembrandt’s deep understanding of human character.


Rembrandt’s full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. He was born in Leiden, The Netherlands, on July 15, 1606. He studied painting at an early age. By the time he was 22, he was teaching other painters.


Rembrandt painted many scenes from the Bible and history. These works reflect his genius for presenting subjects in a dramatic way. To add drama to scenes, he often used strong contrasts of dark and light. Much of the scene seems almost lost in darkness, while bright light spotlights faces or other areas Rembrandt wants you to notice. His scenes from the Bible show his fondness for colorful and unusual costumes.

Rembrandt’s portraits reflect his keen observation. He loved to paint himself, often as practice for an effect he was trying to achieve. For example, in painting his face, he might practice how to show an emotion such as sorrow passing across the face. Rembrandt produced about 60 self-portraits.

Rembrandt’s biggest moneymakers were group portraits. A group would pay him to paint its members. In Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, for example, Rembrandt shows members of the Guild of Surgeons who have assembled for the dissection (cutting and examining) of a corpse. In a famous painting known as The Night Watch, he portrays a military group, gathered behind its leaders.


Rembrandt’s marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a successful art dealer, helped his career. It led him to wealthy patrons who hired him to paint their portraits. But Rembrandt always lived beyond his means. Once he even declared bankruptcy. In 1669, Rembrandt died in Amsterdam after the death of nearly everyone he loved—Saskia, his son Titus, and his housekeeper Hendrickje Stoffels.


Rembrandt may have created about 600 paintings, as well as an enormous number of drawings and etchings. The exact number of paintings is uncertain. During the late 1900s, Rembrandt experts decided that the artist’s well-taught pupils may have painted some of these works. Identifying which are Rembrandt’s works is an active area of art study. Everyone agrees, however, that few artists have equaled Rembrandt’s sympathetic portrayal of human character and emotion.

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