Born at the beginning of the 17th century in Leiden, Netherlands; Rembrandt van Rijn was destined to become one of the world’s greatest painters, although his life was marked both by poverty and success.
At the young age of 25, Rembrandt was already an accomplished master painter, with his own studio and students. He moved to Amsterdam in order to grow his business, and ended up marrying into a fairly wealthy family.
Rembrandt’s life was good – for a while. Then his first two children died at young ages, and his wife died shortly after the birth of his third child, Titus.
Financially, Rembrandt faced hardship as well. Declaring bankruptcy in 1656, the painter sold most of his collected art and possessions, and lived the rest of his life making a small income off of a trickle of commissions until his death in 1669.
Rembrandt is best known for his portrait paintings, for his use of light and shadow, and his attention to the smallest detail.
He was a prolific artist, turning out over 500 paintings, almost as many etchings, and anywhere from 1200-2000 drawings, although the exact numbers may never be known, since his students’ work is often attributed to him as well.
We can learn a lot about the personality of this master of painting just by looking at his art, since Rembrandt’s self-portraits have become a sort of visual autobiography for his life and career.
From a young master in Leiden to an old and failing painter in Amsterdam, Rembrandt was intent upon showing us exactly what he saw – his hair went from gold to gray, and his skin from smooth to wrinkled. Even his expression seems to age, weighed down with sorrow and financial difficulty.
But in each portrait his eyes are fixed and steady, ever striving to honestly capture the fleeting moments of his life. In those paintings, Rembrandt bared his soul, and in doing so achieved a simple and profound beauty that still lasts today.