Rembrandt van Rijn, whose name has remained famous for centuries, was born in 1606 and lived to become a celebrated painter and champion of realism. He is most known for his Baroque paintings and, to a lesser extent, for his etchings, which display similar matters fashioned in different ways. Students, faculty and Holland residents now have the opportunity to view several prints of these unique etchings, which are on display at the Kruizenga Art Museum in the exhibit “Rembrandt Etchings,” which opened April 9. Even among other etchers, Rembrandt’s work stands out. The art form itself is unusual; it consists of scratching the desired lines into a metal plate covered in acid-resistant substances, usually beeswax or resin. The plate is then dipped in acid, where the unexposed regions are eaten away until recessed lines are revealed. Ink is then applied and the print is formed. A plate will not last forever and must be re-scratched; this means very few prints are exactly the same.
Rembrandt had taught himself the form, and while other artists have had a similar uniform scratch style, Rembrandt’s was more uncontrolled and erratic–more like styles seen in painting or sketching. Rembrandt went through various phases in his artistic process; look for these different styles in the 13 on display, which were completed between 1632 and 1655. Rembrandt van Rijn’s paintings and etchings were commonly centered around biblical, historical and mythological themes. The 13 etchings currently on display at the Kruizenga all were inspired by Rembrandt’s Christian interests and feature scenes taken directly from the Bible as well as scenes imagined by Rembrandt, such as the death of the Virgin Mary. What is unique about the works on display is that they weave together both European and Middle-Eastern aesthetics, each one contrasting the other but still resulting in an intact print. He also brings a dramatic flair to his artwork through his experimentations with light and dark. Lanterns really seem to shine, and the wonder emanating from the scene as Lazarus rises from the grave is shocking. Especially considering his chosen medium of art, the realism Rembrandt was able to convey with simple scratches on a metal plate is remarkable.
Rembrandt’s natural curiosity bleeds out through in his art, as each piece itself is a study of space, shadow, exaggeration and raw human emotion. 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death in 1669. To this day it is unsure what exactly his status was in the years surrounding his death. The “Rembrandt myth” states that as Classicism from France overtook the Netherlands, Rembrandt’s realism lost its luster, and the painter died in poverty and shame. Other sources say that his fame continued throughout his living years and well past his death over 300 years ago. Nevertheless, Rembrandt van Rijn remains one of the greatest storytellers in the history of art and a master of bringing his subjects alive with emotion. The pieces on display have been donated to the permanent collection at the Kruizenga Art Museum and all are encouraged to stop by and view these unique, complex etchings.