Rembrandt van Rijn, a Dutch painter from Leiden in the south of the Netherlands, is counted as one of Europe’s greatest painters. He was prolific in his work having produced over 600 paintings, 300 etchings, 2,000 drawings, and almost a 100 portraits throughout his long career.
Born in 1606, Rembrandt lived during the era of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in the 17th century in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world.
As a young boy he worked as an apprentice with history painter, Jacob van Swanenburgh, and then Pieter Lastman, where he developed his artistic skills and ability to paint complex biblical and historical scenes.
In what is called Rembrandt’s Leiden period from 1625-1631, he departed from his contemporaries by producing etchings with a painterly quality achieved through his handling of light and dark.
His work is known by its innovative use of light, an artistic approach that Rembrandt adapted from the renaissance technique called Chiaroscuro; which means light-dark. His own unique style of painting can be seen in the painting Judas Repentant and Returning the Pieces of Silver (1629).
In the 1630s Rembrandt also grew to fame as a popular portraitist. Rembrandt had a specific style, angling the model’s face so that the ridge of the nose nearly always formed a line of demarcation between brightly illuminated and shadowy areas.
In 1642 he painted The Night Watch the most significant group portrait commission which he received. In this painting Rembrandt portrayed the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.
As well as a famous and revered painter, Rembrandt took on student painters. Only an estimate of the number of his pupils can be made, since official registers of trainees have been lost, but it is believed that over the course of his career he had 50 or so students.
In spite of being a successful painter who earned great wealth, Rembrandt was also known for his extravagant and lavish lifestyle which almost drove him to bankruptcy. He died on 4 October 1669 in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unknown grave in the Westerkerk.
Today, Rembrandt is still celebrated as a master of his time. In 2013 The Rijksmuseum, a Dutch national museum dedicated to arts and history, paid homage to Rembrandt’s legacy as they reopened the museum in 2013 by re-creating The Night Watch as a flash-mob.