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Known for his self-portraits and biblical scenes, Dutch artist Rembrandt is considered to be one of the greatest painters in European history.
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Rembrandt was a 17th century painter and etcher whose work came to dominate what has since been named the Dutch Golden Age. One of the most revered artists of all time, Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are seen in his portraits of his contemporaries, illustrations of biblical scenes and self-portraits as well as his innovative etchings and use of shadow and light.
Born in Leiden, Netherlands in 1606, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn attended elementary school from 1612 to 1616 and then attended the Latin School in Leiden, where he partook in biblical studies and lessons on the classics. It is unclear whether Rembrandt completed his studies at the Latin School, but one account claims that he was removed from school early and sent to be trained as a painter at his own request.
From 1620 to either 1624 or 1625, Rembrandt trained as an artist under two masters. His first was painter Jacob van Swanenburgh (1571–1638), with whom he studied for about three years. Under van Swanenburgh, Rembrandt would have learned basic artistic skills. Van Swanenburgh specialized in scenes of hell and the underworld, and his ability to paint fire and the way its light reflects on surrounding objects was likely an influence on Rembrandt’s later work. Rembrandt's second teacher was Amsterdam’s Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), who was a well-known history painter and likely helped Rembrandt master the genre, which included placing figures from biblical, historical and allegorical scenes in complex settings.
In 1625, Rembrandt settled back in Leiden, now a master in his own right, and over the next six years he laid the foundations for his life's work. It was during this time that Lastman's influence was most noticeable, as in several instances Rembrandt deconstructed his former master's compositions and reassembled them into his own, a practice carried on by Rembrandt's own pupils later on. Rembrandt’s paintings created at this time were generally small but rich in detail; religious and allegorical themes were prominent. Rembrandt also worked on his first etchings (1626) in Leiden, and his eventual international fame would rely on the widespread dissemination of these works. Diverging from his contemporaries, Rembrandt endowed his etchings with a painterly quality achieved through suggestive handling of light and dark.
Rembrandt's style soon took an innovative turn involving his use of light. His new style left large areas of his paintings obscured in shadow; through his interpretation, illumination grew rapidly weaker as it extended into the painting, creating spots of brightness and pockets of deep darkness. In this vein, in 1629 Rembrandt completed Judas Repentant and Returning the Pieces of Silver, among others, works that further evidence his interest in the handling of light. Another example is his Peter and Paul Disputing (1628), in which the painting’s lighted elements are clustered together and surrounded by clusters of darker tones, drawing the viewer's eye to a general focal point before moving in to observe the details within.
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