Rembrandt, Religion and the Getty

A Bearded Man in a Cap 165(7?)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 - 1669), the Dutch painter whose dark, gloomy portraits seem as if they were painted in a cellar, and if it weren't for their obvious merits - not to mention their monetary value - might ought to be hung in one as well, is currently being honored by the Getty Center in an exhibition of his late religious portraits.

A Ederly Man as the Apostle Paul 165(9?)

For most of Rembrandt's life he was not known as a painter of religious figures, as it was not the style of the 17th century Protestant Dutch, who found inspiration in more earthly figures.  How and why Rembrandt came to paint religious figures late in his life remains a mystery.  Hence, the Getty Center's summer 2005 Premier Presentation of "Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits," which brings together, for the first time, many of his distinctive religious portraits that were created near the end of his life - a time of great personal turmoil.  Rembrandt's last years were spent in poverty.  He lost his wife and only child to the plague.  When he himself died on October 4, 1669, he was buried in a rented grave.

Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul 1661

The sixteen works on exhibit at the Getty Center were produced between the late 1650s and early 1660s, when Rembrandt entered a phase of increased productivity, despite his dire circumstances.  The reason for the existence of these portraits is shrouded in mystery - there is no documentation that suggest a commission or any personal reason for executing the paintings.  Some speculate that Rembrandt's struggles led him to biblical subjects.  For over 80 years, scholars have wondered if the works were part of a series.  Now, a large number of his religious works have been exhibited side by side so that their stylistic and thematic relationships can be assessed in hopes of answering some of these questions.

The Apostle Bartholomew 1661

The portraits in this collection possess a powerful humanistic quality.  Rembrandt based most of them on studies painted from life, adapting physical and emotional characteristics of models to convey spiritual qualities he associated with religious figures.  The most recognizable portrait of the collection is his "Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul."  Rembrandt as Paul, his sword of martyrdom pressed close to his body, gazes directly at the viewer, showcasing the saints' human limitations.

The Apostle Bartholomew 1657

Rembrandt's model's leer out from the canvas, their features trying to escape their trying existence.  Their lightened limbs and faces leer from the black, shadowy background.  Often they carry their hauntings into the foreground, as with "Saint Bavo," who wears armor and carries a falcon, both symbols of his past indulgences or "The Apostle Bartholomew" who carries a knife, foreshadowing his martyrdom, when he was skinned alive.  The men and women of the series all seem to peer out of the dark recess of dimly lit interiors, burdened by the weight of their spiritual and emotional concerns.  They seem to sense the viewers presence and are welcomingly distracted by our peeping.  Their awareness of our existence distracts them from their tortures.  Some, like "The Virgin of Sorrows" are too pressed, too burdened to raise their heads, but their eyes give them away.

The Apostle James the Major 1661

"Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits" will make its only West Coast appearance at the Getty Center from June 7 - August 28.  The exhibit arrives in Los Angeles from the nation's capital where it was shown to great acclaim at the National Gallery of Art.

The Virgin of Sorrows 1661


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