Expressive faces, majestic landscapes and minuscule details are some of the traits that characterize the prints of the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijin, whom the Denver Art Museum is commemorating in the 350th anniversary of his death with an exhibition titled Rembrandt: Painter as Printmaker, on display through Jan. 6.
The exhibit displays nearly 130 prints, paintings and drawings by the artist, from 1625 to 1665. Most of these works came from the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, which contains one of the most significant collections of Rembrandt in the world.
“Rembrandt’s paintings aimed to capture the essence of a historical or religious event, the psychology of a sitter in a portrait, and an empathy with his native Dutch landscapes surrounding Amsterdam,” Timothy J. Standring, Gates Family Foundation Curator at the Denver Art Museum, told the Denver Catholic. “He painted these canvases with heavy impasto, bravura brush strokes, and compelling lighting. He was, after all, a consummate dramaturge, able to direct his scenes with the precision of Alfred Hitchcock or Francis Ford Coppola.”
Halfway through the exposition, the spectator can watch a video describing the process of printmaking, which reveals the detail and precision it requires, and the genius, talent and knowledge of the historical context of each work that is necessary to leave even the smallest details, such as the face expressions of secondary characters, inscribed in the artwork.
Some of the themes that inspired the artist were Biblical scenes, landscapes, allegoric and mythological compositions, everyday moments and self-portraits.
“Unlike most of his contemporaries, Rembrandt produced prints that were considered works of art in their own right,” Standring said. “What distinguishes Rembrandt is that he began to orchestrate ever more complex, multi-figured dramas in settings defined by dramatic divisions of light and dark passages.”
Rembrandt’s exhibit shows dozens of prints inspired in passages of the Old and New Testaments, and moments in the life of some saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi and St. Jerome. Some of the works, such as “Christ Preaching,” represents various Biblical scenes and teachings of Jesus in one print.
Also known as “The Hundred Guilder Print,” the price at which it was sold to an Italian merchant, many consider this piece as the artist’s best achievement in terms of giving continuity to a story. Rembrandt unites in this artwork four stories from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is portrayed in the center, higher than the other figures, and it shows how “large crowds followed him, and he healed them there” (Mt 19:2). Old and sick people awaited miraculous healings with faces showing amazement. Women and children are also depicted approaching the Messiah, reflecting Jesus’ words, “Let the children come to me” (Mt 19:14). Likewise, the piece shows the pharisees, who wanted to meet Jesus, in an incredulous manner (Mt 19: 3-12). One of them is mounted on a camel, alluding to Jesus’ words: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mat 19:24).
In another print titled “Christ before Pilate,” the Dutch artist focuses on the dramatic element of the Judean governor’s abandonment of Jesus to the crowd that declared him guilty.
“They scream that thief Barabbas should be released, instead of Christ, and Pilate can now wash his hands with the ewer and basin held by the young servant to his right and re-join his wife, who watches the unfolding drama from a window above in the left half of the cross-mullioned window,” the curator explained.
The exhibition also portrays some 30 self-portraits of the artist, which, according to Standring, show a technique “rather unique among his contemporary printmakers.”
All who appreciate beautiful art and Biblical representations will be able to enjoy Rembrandt’s exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, considered among many experts to be the best Dutch artist in history for being a “keen observer of the human condition,” according to the curator. “He created paintings, drawings, and original prints covering a universe of subjects drawn from the world around him, as well as from the classical past, religious texts, genre, opera and theatre,” Standring concluded.