“The very greatest things - great thoughts, discoveries, inventions - have usually been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length established with difficulty.” - Samuel Smiles
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15,1606 in Leiden Netherlands. Although not at all wealthy, his family took great care with his education. At the age of fourteen he attended the University of Leiden. However, he soon left university to pursue a career as an artist. He studied under local masters Jacob van Swanenburch and Pieter Lastman, the latter well known for his historical paintings. It was not long before Rembrandt was a master at his craft.
At twenty-two he began taking on students of his own. In 1631 he moved to Amsterdam and was married three years later to Saskia van Uylenburgh. Her cousin was a successful art dealer who introduced him to wealthy patrons who commissioned portraits. The “Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts” is an example of the type of portraits he painted during that period. Besides painting portraits Rembrandt’s mythological and religious works were also much in demand.
Rembrandt was an artist who was quite famous and popular during his lifetime. Works of art such as “The Blinding of Samson” and “Stormy Landscape” had people in awe of his vision. Rembrandt’s seemed to have it all, at least when observed casually and from outside his family situation. He had a great career doing what he loved to do as well as the love of a good woman. While he should have been enjoying a prosperous career he and his wife suffered one great personal loss after another. Within a span of five years each of his three children died in infancy. In 1641 a son they named Titus would break that cycle. However, tragedy always seemed to prevail. Although their son lived, Saskia’s death would come one short year later.
In 1649 after a brief affair with his son's nanny Geertghe Dircx, Rembrandt found someone to share his life with. Hendrickje Stoffels (formally his housekeeper) soon became his partner in love and the subject for many of his paintings. Although he was successful in his career as an artist, teacher and art dealer Rembrandt was living well beyond his means which finally drove him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. Much of his collection of art and antiquities including the sale of his house went to pay his huge debts.
During the artist’s most difficult times, some of his greatest works were created. “The Jewish Bride”, “The Syndics of the Cloth Guild”, “Bathsheba”, “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”, and a “Self Portrait” were very successful. Rembrandt’s personal life seemed cursed as again he was robbed of a second chance at love. Hendrickje died in 1663 and two years later his only son would meet the same fate. Within a short year later on October 4th, 1669 at sixty-three years old Rembrandt died. His masterpieces have made him world famous and many people even though completely unschooled in art not only know his name but also are familiar with some of his works.
The “Blinding of Samson” illustrated above was painted in 1636. Although it has many stylistic elements conventional at the time, Rembrandt stamps it with his unmistakeable originality. Like many Baroque paintings, it contrasts a dark background with the lighting focused on the characters in the painting, as if they are spotlit. This creates a dramatic effect focusing the viewers’ eyes on the principal characters, while leaving some sections dark and forbidding, or even threatening – such as the silhouetted soldier on the left. Samson as the primary focus is centrally located and well-lit, with the gory gouging out of his eyes caught in a horrific snapshot. Delilah’s servant brandishing scissors and the shorn locks of Samson’s hair glowers and is also lit by reflected light, this also contributing to the drama of the scene. This is a masterpiece both technically as well as iconographically.