Most Famous Paintings by Rembrandt
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, commonly known as Rembrandt, was a Dutch painter and etcher who lived during the 17th century, known as the Dutch Golden Age. Revered as one of the greatest painters of the 17th century, Rembrandt is best known for works such as “Bathsheba at Her Bath” (1654), “The Night Watch” (1642), “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633), and “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” (1662). In the nutshell, the Dutch painter became renowned for his innovative techniques, rich use of light and shadow, and deep psychological insight in his works.
Here are some of his most famous masterpieces as well as other major artistic achievements that he chalked:
“The Night Watch” (1642)
“The Night Watch” is one of Rembrandt’s most famous and iconic paintings. Completed in 1642, the full title of the painting is “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq,” but it is commonly referred to as “The Night Watch.” As of 2023, it is housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The painting depicts a group of armed civic guards preparing for a march. Rembrandt deviated from the traditional group portrait style by portraying the guards in a dynamic and lively manner. He used dramatic lighting and composition to create a sense of movement and capture the individual personalities of the guards.
“The Night Watch” is renowned for its impressive scale, measuring approximately 11.91 ft × 14.34 ft (363 cm × 437 cm). It showcases Rembrandt’s mastery of light and shadow, with the figures illuminated against a dark background. The painting’s rich colors and intricate details reveal the artist’s meticulous attention to each character and their clothing.
Despite its name, “The Night Watch” is not actually set at night, as the darkened varnish on the painting led to the misconception. Over time, the varnish darkened, and only during a restoration in the 1940s was it discovered that the scene depicted a day-time gathering.
“Bathsheba at Her Bath” (1654)
In the oil painting, Bathsheba is shown seated on a luxurious chair, partially draped in a richly textured robe. She holds the letter in her hand, which she attentively reads, suggesting a mix of curiosity and apprehension. Rembrandt captures her contemplative expression and delicate features with remarkable attention to detail.
Measuring at 142 cm by 142 cm (56 inches by 56 inches), the painting stands out for its masterful use of light and shadow, as Rembrandt employs chiaroscuro to emphasize Bathsheba’s form and create a sense of depth. The contrast of light and darkness adds an intimate and introspective mood to the scene.
Using broad, thick brushstrokes combined with vibrant colors, the Dutch painter conveys emotion and psychological depth in the subjects of the painting. In the nutshell, the painting invites viewers to contemplate Bathsheba’s inner thoughts and the consequences of King David’s desires.
There some art historians that state that the model used for the painting was likely Rembrandt’s mistress Hendrickje Stoffels.
The painting was made about the same time Rembrandt painted “A Woman Bathing in a Stream” (1655). That painting, which is now housed at the National Gallery in London, shares a lot in terms of theme of intimacy with “Bathsheba at Her Bath”.
As of 2023, this artwork is housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, where it is recognized as one of Rembrandt’s significant works and continues to captivate audiences with its intricate composition and nuanced portrayal of a poignant biblical narrative. The painting is also one of more than 580 works donated to the museum by French physician Louis La Caze (1798-1869) in 1869.
“The Jewish Bride” (1665–1669)
“The Jewish Bride” is an intimate portrait that depicts an affectionate couple believed to represent Isaac and Rebecca from the Bible. The painting showcases Rembrandt’s skill in capturing the tender moments and complex emotions between the two figures.
In the painting, the couple is portrayed in close proximity, with the woman resting her hand on the man’s shoulder. Their gazes meet, conveying a sense of deep connection and love. The woman is dressed in rich garments, and her contemplative expression exudes serenity and affection. Rembrandt’s mastery of texture and color is evident in the detailed rendering of the clothing and the delicate interplay of light and shadow.
The painting is notable for its warm and harmonious color palette, with rich hues of red, gold, and brown dominating the composition. Rembrandt’s careful attention to the play of light on the figures adds depth and three-dimensionality to the scene.
The painting is housed at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it continues to captivate audiences with its exceptional beauty, expressive qualities, and Rembrandt’s extraordinary ability to convey deep emotions through his art.
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632)
Created in 1632, Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” is a group portrait depicting Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, a prominent Amsterdam physician, conducting an anatomy lesson with a group of surgeons and scholars.
In the painting, Dr. Tulp is shown at the center, demonstrating the dissection of a cadaver’s forearm. His expertise and authority are emphasized by his confident posture and the way he points to the anatomical structures. The other figures surrounding him are depicted in various poses, attentively observing the procedure and taking notes.
Rembrandt’s mastery of light and shadow is evident in the painting. The scene is bathed in a soft, diffused light that highlights the central figures and creates a sense of depth. The composition is well-balanced, with careful attention to the positioning of each character and their interaction with the cadaver.
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” is notable for its realism and attention to detail. Rembrandt’s meticulous rendering of the anatomy, including the muscles, tendons, and bones, demonstrates his keen observational skills and knowledge of human anatomy.
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” is housed in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands. It is regarded as one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces, appreciated for its technical skill, engaging composition, and its contribution to the representation of scientific and intellectual pursuits in art.
“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633)
“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” is a significant painting by Rembrandt that depicts the dramatic biblical scene where Jesus and his disciples are caught in a violent storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee. The painting captures the tumultuous nature of the storm, with crashing waves and wind-swept sails. In the center, Jesus is shown calm and composed, with his disciples frantically trying to control the boat and save themselves from the perilous conditions.
Unfortunately, the original painting was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and remains missing to this day. The theft of this masterpiece, along with other valuable artworks, is considered one of the largest art heists in history.
“The Hundred Guilder Print” (c. 1647-1649)
“The Hundred Guilder Print” portrays a biblical scene featuring Christ surrounded by a crowd of people. The composition captures a moment of intense interaction and engagement, as Christ gestures and speaks to the crowd. The figures in the print are arranged in a dynamic and varied manner, showcasing Rembrandt’s mastery of capturing human expression and movement.
What sets this print apart is its technical complexity and meticulous attention to detail. Rembrandt employed various etching techniques to achieve a wide range of tones, textures, and depths, resulting in a richly layered and atmospheric composition. The use of light and shadow, as well as intricate cross-hatching and fine lines, creates a sense of three-dimensionality and depth in the image.
“The Hundred Guilder Print” encompasses a wealth of narrative and symbolic elements, reflecting Rembrandt’s exploration of spiritual and moral themes. It invites viewers to contemplate the power of Christ’s teachings and the diverse reactions of the people around him.
This print is highly regarded as a masterwork of etching and a testament to Rembrandt’s technical virtuosity. It is often considered a pinnacle of printmaking and has influenced generations of artists. The original print is housed in various museum collections, including the British Museum in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
“Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” (1662)
In this painting, six men are gathered around a table, engaged in business discussions and examining textile samples. The figures are positioned in a row, conveying a sense of authority and unity. Rembrandt skillfully captures the individuality and character of each syndic through his meticulous attention to facial expressions, clothing, and posture.
The painting stands out for its use of light and shadow, with Rembrandt’s signature technique of chiaroscuro. The light falls on the figures from the left, casting shadows and creating a sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Rembrandt’s mastery in capturing textures, such as the intricate details of the clothing and the reflective surfaces of the objects on the table, adds to the realism and richness of the composition.
“The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” is celebrated for its exceptional craftsmanship, meticulous detail, and Rembrandt’s ability to infuse life and character into each individual portrayed. The painting serves as a testament to the importance and influence of guilds in the Dutch Golden Age, highlighting the power and significance of trade and commerce during that time.
The oil painting’s dimensions are: 191.5 cm by 279 cm (75.4 inches by 110 inches).
“The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” is housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it continues to captivate viewers with its technical brilliance, engaging composition, and Rembrandt’s ability to convey the personalities and dynamics of the syndics.
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman” (1656)
“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman,” created by Rembrandt in 1662, is a renowned artwork that shows Dr. Jan Deijman performing a brain dissection. The cadaver is an executed criminal by the name of Joris “Black Jack” Fonteijn. Also seen in the painting is Dr. Deijman’s assistant, the physician Gijsbert Calkoen. The assistant holds the top of the dead man’s skull.
Rembrandt’s masterful use of light and shadow, along with his attention to detail, brings depth and realism to the scene. The composition emphasizes the intellectual curiosity and scientific advancements of the time, while also evoking a sense of introspection and contemplation. This iconic piece showcases Rembrandt’s ability to merge artistry with storytelling, making it a testament to his lasting legacy in the art world.
As of 2023, the painting, which measures at 100 cm by 134 cm (39 inches by 53 inches), is housed in the Amsterdam Museum in the Netherlands.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1668–1669)
“a picture which those who have seen the original in St. Petersburg may be forgiven for claiming as the greatest picture ever painted.”
So goes one of the quotes by British art historian Kenneth Clark about the “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1668-69), a painting by the great Dutch Master Rembrandt.
Inspired by the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Bible (i.e. Luke 15:11-32), this painting’s central focus is on the emotional reunion between the prodigal son and his father. The son, depicted as a weary and remorseful figure, kneels before his father, who tenderly embraces him. The father’s face is filled with compassion, forgiveness, and paternal love. The scene evokes themes of redemption, mercy, and reconciliation.
Rembrandt’s skill in capturing human emotion and introspection is evident in the painting. The nuanced expressions, delicate brushwork, and use of light and shadow contribute to the depth and psychological intensity of the scene. The use of chiaroscuro enhances the emotional impact, as the characters emerge from the darkness into the warm, illuminating light.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” is renowned for its spiritual and universal themes of forgiveness, compassion, and the profound love of a parent. It is considered one of Rembrandt’s most profound and introspective works, reflecting his own personal struggles and spiritual journey.
The painting, which measures at 262 cm by 205 cm (103 inches by 81 inches), is housed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and continues to inspire and resonate with viewers, inviting contemplation of the complexities of human relationships, redemption, and the power of forgiveness.
“Self-Portrait with Two Circles” (c. 1665–1669)
Measuring at 114.3 cm by 94 cm (45 inches by 37 inches), “Self-Portrait with Two Circles” (c. 1665–1669) is one of more than 35 self-portraits painted by Rembrandt in his lifetime.
In the painting, Rembrandt presents himself with a sense of introspection and self-assurance. His gaze is direct and focused, conveying a sense of deep thought and artistic introspection. The confident brushwork and use of light and shadow accentuate the artist’s features, emphasizing his penetrating eyes and the texture of his fur-trimmed coat.
The two faintly sketched circles in the background have been the subject of interpretation and speculation. Some art scholars suggest that they represent the artist’s exploration of geometric forms or serve as symbolic elements related to Rembrandt’s artistic techniques and vision. However, their exact meaning remains open to interpretation.
“Self-Portrait with Two Circles” is regarded as one of Rembrandt’s most accomplished and enigmatic self-portraits. It demonstrates his mastery of capturing the human form and his ability to convey his inner thoughts and emotions through his art.
The painting is currently held in the collection of the English Royal Collection Trust and is displayed at the Kenwood House in London. It continues to captivate viewers with its striking depiction of the artist and its ability to invite contemplation of Rembrandt’s artistic identity and introspection.
“The Prodigal Son in the Brothel” (1637)
About three decades before he painted “Return of the Prodigal Son”, he painted an oil painting titled “The Prodigal Son in the Brothel” which depicts two people – himself and his wife Saskia.
Through pigment analysis, it has been revealed that Rembrandt commonly employed the typical baroque pigments in his works, including red ochre, lead-tin-yellow, madder lake, and smalt. Furthermore, his artistic technique involved an intricate multilayer approach to painting.
Also known as “The Prodigal Son in the Tavern” or “Rembrandt and Saskia in the parable of the prodigal son”, the painting is now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister of Dresden, Germany. The Dutch painter signed the painting as “REMBRANDT F.”.
“Slaughtered Ox” (1655)
Rembrandt’s “Slaughtered Ox” is an important painting believed to have been created in 1655. Also known as “Flayed Ox” or “The Flayed Ox,” it depicts the eviscerated carcass of an ox hanging from hooks in a butcher’s shop.
In the painting, Rembrandt presents a realistic and detailed portrayal of the flayed ox, showcasing his exceptional skill in capturing textures, lighting, and anatomical accuracy. The composition is dark and somber, with the carcass illuminated by a shaft of light, creating a strong contrast between light and shadow.
“The Slaughtered Ox” is often interpreted as a memento mori, a reminder of the transience of life and the inevitability of death. It is believed to reflect Rembrandt’s fascination with the human body and his exploration of themes related to mortality and the fragility of existence.
The painting is currently held in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it continues to be admired for its technical mastery, dramatic lighting, and the introspective nature of its subject matter.
“The Abduction of Europa” (1632)
Rembrandt’s “The Abduction of Europa” depicts the mythological story of Europa, a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus in the form of a bull. In the painting, Europa is shown seated on the back of the bull, surrounded by a group of attendants who watch the scene in awe and confusion.
Rembrandt’s rendition of the story differs from traditional depictions, as he focuses more on the psychological and emotional aspects of the event rather than its physicality. The emphasis is on Europa’s facial expression and her interaction with the people around her. The use of light and shadow adds depth and drama to the composition.
While the painting showcases Rembrandt’s skill in capturing human emotions and his ability to convey a narrative, it is important to note that the authenticity of this specific work has been questioned over time. There is some debate among scholars regarding its attribution to Rembrandt, and it remains a topic of ongoing research and discussion in the art world.
“Rembrandt’s Son Titus in a Monk’s Habit”
Rembrandt’s “Titus in a Monk’s Habit,” also known as “Titus as a Monk,” is a painting believed to have been created around 1660. It portrays Rembrandt’s son, Titus van Rijn, dressed in a monk’s habit and seated at a desk, engaged in quiet contemplation or study.
In the painting, Titus is shown in three-quarter profile, with a calm and introspective expression. His hands rest on a book or manuscript, indicating his scholarly pursuits. The monk’s habit, with its dark tones, adds a sense of solemnity and spirituality to the composition.
Rembrandt’s exceptional use of light and shadow in “Titus in a Monk’s Habit” enhances the depth and dimensionality of the painting. The play of light on Titus’ face and hands draws attention to the subtle nuances of his features, capturing a sense of serenity and inner reflection.
The painting is notable for its intimate and tender portrayal of Rembrandt’s son, highlighting the deep bond between them. It is believed to reflect the influence of Rembrandt’s personal experiences and his desire to capture the emotional depth of his subjects.
“Titus in a Monk’s Habit” is housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where it is admired for its artistic mastery and as a testament to Rembrandt’s ability to convey the inner world and character of his subjects.
Answers to Popular Questions about Rembrandt and his Major Works
Dutch Golden Age painter Rembrandt was best known for using a variety of styles in his paintings. He was a prolific artists, painting portraits, landscapes, self-portraits, and genre scenes. His themes ranged from historical to biblical and mythological to allegorical. Art historians have estimated that the Dutch Golden Age painter produced more than 280 paintings and over 1800 drawings.
Here is what you need to know:
What was the first signed painting by Rembrandt?
It was “The Stoning of Saint Stephen” (1625). The oil painting was a made on a wood panel. The painting takes its inspiration from the biblical story (i.e. Acts 7) of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. As of 2023, the painting, which measures at 89 cm by 123 cm (35 inches by 48 inches), is exhibited at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. There is a figure in the painting that is nestled between Saint Stephen and the man holding a large rock over his head. That figure is a self-portrait of Rembrandt.
What kinds of works did Rembrandt produce?
Rembrandt’s diverse body of work includes portraits, landscapes, historical and biblical scenes, genre paintings, and self-portraits. He had a distinctive style characterized by his masterful depiction of light and shadow, known as chiaroscuro, and his ability to capture the complexity of human emotions.
In Rembrandt’s portraits and self-portraits, he often positions the sitter’s face in a manner where the nose’s ridge becomes the defining line between areas of intense illumination and deep shadows. This technique creates a captivating effect where the Rembrandt face appears partially obscured, while the nose stands out prominently, piercing through the enigmatic realm of subtle tones.
By emphasizing the stark contrast between a radiant luminosity and a mysterious dusky atmosphere, the nose serves as a focal point that captures the viewer’s attention and adds a dramatic flair to the composition.
How did he present his subjects?
Throughout his artistic journey, the Dutch painter focused primarily on three themes: portraiture, landscape, and narrative painting. Among these, it was his prowess in the latter that garnered him immense acclaim from his contemporaries. Renowned as a masterful storyteller, he skillfully brought biblical narratives to life, impressing others with his ability to convey emotions and meticulous attention to detail.
With an engaging and vibrant approach, he presented subjects in a manner that defied the rigid formality commonly seen among his peers. His heartfelt empathy for humanity extended beyond considerations of wealth and age. Within his artworks, he frequently showcased his immediate family, including his wife Saskia, his son Titus, and his common-law wife Hendrickje. These paintings often encompassed mythical, biblical, or historical narratives.
Who were some of Rembrandt’s students?
Rembrandt had numerous students during his career, many of whom became successful painters in their own right. Some notable students of Rembrandt include:
- Gerrit Dou was one of Rembrandt’s earliest and most accomplished students. He developed a refined style and became known for his meticulously detailed genre scenes and portraits.
- Ferdinand Bol became one of Rembrandt’s most talented students and closely emulated his master’s style. He achieved success as a portrait painter and was highly regarded for his skill in capturing the likeness and character of his subjects.
- Govert Flinck studied under Rembrandt and was greatly influenced by his use of light and shadow. He became known for his historical and biblical scenes and was highly regarded for his ability to convey drama and emotion.
- Carel Fabritius trained in Rembrandt’s studio and adopted his master’s techniques. He became a skilled painter known for his meticulous attention to detail, innovative use of light, and exquisite brushwork.
- Samuel van Hoogstraten was a student of Rembrandt and later became a successful painter and writer on art theory. He incorporated Rembrandt’s teachings into his own works, particularly in his use of light and shadow.
These are just a few examples of Rembrandt’s notable students, but there were many others who learned from him and went on to make significant contributions to the art world. They include: Jacob Levecq, Nicolaes Maes, Jürgen Ovens, Christopher Paudiß, Willem de Poorter, Jan Victors, Willem van der Vliet, Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), Willem Drost, and Adriaen Brouwer (c. 1605-1638).
What were some of his most famous works?
Some of his most famous paintings include “The Night Watch,” “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” “Self-Portrait with Two Circles,” and “The Jewish Bride.” Rembrandt’s works have had a significant influence on generations of artists and continue to be celebrated for their technical mastery and emotional depth.
What are some of his most famous etchings?
The most famous ones are: “Virgin and Child with a Cat” (1654), “The Three Crosses” (1653), “Christ and the woman taken in adultery” (c. 1639-1641), and “The Windmill” (1641).
Who are some of the notable critics of Rembrandt?
Some of the critics of Rembrandt include: Italian art historian and biographer Filippo Baldinucci (1625-1696), French painter and engraver Roger de Piles (1635-1709), English writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), and Dutch poet and composer Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687).
What are some of the notable self-portraits by Rembrandt?
Rembrandt produced nearly one hundred self-portraits, consisting of over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings, and approximately seven drawings. While the majority of the etchings raise questions about the subject’s identity, and some of the paintings challenge the certainty of the artist’s portrayal, a few self-portraits still remain ambiguous in terms of their classification as true portraits.
The most notable self-portrait paintings are “Self-Portrait in a Gorget” (c. 1629), “Self-portrait with hat” (1632), “Self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet” (1635), “Self-Portrait with Two Circles” (1665-1669), and “Self-Portrait in a Black Cap” (c. 1637).
Rembrandt: Quick Facts
Born: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Date of birth: July 15, 1606
Place of birth: Leiden, Dutch Republic (today’s Netherland)
Died: October 4, 1669
Place of death: Amsterdam, Dutch Republic (today’s Netherland)
Most famous works: “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632), “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633), “Bathsheba at Her Bath” (1654), “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild” (1662)
Parents: Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuijtbrouck and Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn
Spouse: Saskia van Uylenburg
Did you know…?
Rembrandt never went abroad in his life. Regardless, he is regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time, and he is certainly the greatest etchers in history.