Rembrandt's life: Turns of fortune

Sources: Rembrandt’s Nose: of Flesh & Spirit in the Master’s Portraits, by Michael Taylor, Encyclopaedia Britannica, World Book Encyclopedia.October 30, 2011 

Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born into a family of millers and bakers. He attended Latin school, where he received a foundation in biblical studies and the classics, and enrolled in Leiden University at age 14. In 1621, he began the first of two apprenticeships, later opening a studio in Leiden, where he began to work with light and shadow.

"Rembrandt developed a method by which the lit elements in the painting are basically clustered in one area, in such a manner that little shadow is needed to separate the various forms," according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. "By assembling light hues of yellow, blue, pink, green and other colors, he developed a system of bevriende kleuren ('kindred or related colors'). This area of the painting was surrounded by coherent clusters of darker tones that occupied the foreground and background and especially the edges and corners of the work. Through this method Rembrandt not only created a concentrated, almost furnacelike, intensity of the light, but he also obtained a strong unity in his composition. This unity enabled the viewer's eye to grasp the image in one glance, before focusing on the details."

Early in his career, Rembrandt began to work in etchings, using a sketchlike technique that allowed a sense of light and dark in the piece. While supervising and teaching in art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh's workshop, he began doing more portraits on commission and fewer historical paintings and etchings. Between November 1631 and December 1632, he painted one portrait a month, mostly of wealthy Amsterdam couples.

In 1634, Rembrandt married Saskia van Uylenburgh. Her family was well-to-do, and she was considered "a good catch for the upwardly mobile artist," according to Michael Taylor's 2007 book, "Rembrandt's Nose: Of Flesh & Spirit in the Master's Portraits." Rembrandt began taking on more students and assistants and by 1635, needed a larger studio. He also began to collect costly artworks. Saskia's family considered him a spendthrift, who chose to spend money on art rather than living expenses.

He and Saskia had four children; one survived. Saskia died of tuberculosis in 1642, leaving her estate to their infant son, Titus, with Rembrandt as executor.

In 1642, Rembrandt was commissioned to paint what would become one of his most famous paintings, "The Night Watch," a group portrait of an Amsterdam militia company.

Then his fortunes began to turn. His work no longer enjoyed the popularity it once had, and money was tight. "The house he purchased in 1639 was too expensive," according to the World Book encyclopedia. "Rembrandt also collected works of art on a scale he could not afford. Most important, he began to paint more and more for himself. His late majestic biblical paintings were not commissioned work."

Hendrickje Stoffels joined Rembrandt's household staff in 1647 and later lived as his common-law wife until her death in 1663. Their daughter was born in 1654.

In 1653, Rembrandt borrowed money to pay off his house and was then unable to repay the loan. In 1655, he auctioned off part of his art collection to pay his debts. The following year, he declared insolvency. A court ordered the sale of all his household belongings. The remainder of Rembrandt's collection was auctioned off in 1657, and in 1658, a court ordered his house sold.

In 1667, his son, Titus, came of age and gained control of his mother's estate. Titus died the following year.

Rembrandt died Oct. 4, 1669, at age 63.

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