The ninth child and youngest son in a family with ten children, Rembrandt was born in Leiden in 1606 and died in a small house on the outskirts of Amsterdam in 1669. At age 17 he studied briefly with the history painter Pieter Lastman but soon set off on his own course, creating an innovative and memorable style that was much imitated, beginning with the works of his own students. The result of that imitation is that a large number of paintings that have come down to us may or may not have been painted by Rembrandt. Such a situation creates what scholars call an attribution problem.
Emotion and expression: from the beginning they were at the heart of Rembrandt's work as a painter, and he developed a new artistic language to communicate them. His most obvious visual trick was the strong contrast of light and dark, a device he borrowed from the Italian painter Caravaggio. But whereas Caravaggio used light and dark in a theatrical way, as a dramatic device, Rembrandt saw its potential for introspection. His paintings, or at least the most successful of them, seem to peer into the inner soul of his subjects. Caravaggio's transition between light and dark tends to be sharply defined; Rembrandt, on the other hand, created middle tones that melt into the shadows, a transition both gentle and curiously ambiguous: the lights seem somber, and vet the deepest shadows are miraculously luminous and suffused with color.
Along with this handling of light, Rembrandt had an uncommon grasp of the nuances of facial expression. Not much interested in classical standards of beauty, he liked faces that were wrinkled and careworn and that expressed some sort of spiritual illumination achieved through suffering.
Popular myth often presents Rembrandt as a social outcast, spurned by the stout burghers of Amsterdam. The truth is more complex, for while Rembrandt's career went through dramatic swings, he remained a celebrity--albeit a controversial one--up to the end of his career. Enormously ambitious--in fact, something of a social climber--Rembrandt moved from Leiden to Amsterdam in 1631 and rapidly became the most successful portrait painter in the city. Wealthy burghers flocked to have him limn their likenesses, and two years later he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, the cousin of a prosperous art dealer. By the end of that decade, Rembrandt had bought a large house and was making extravagant art purchases.
But this period of happiness with his new bride did not last long. In 1642 Saskia died, and shortly afterward, apparently due to years of reckless spending, Rembrandt fell into financial difficulties. In 1657 his house and art collection were sold.
At about that same time he became involved in personal scandals. A few months after his wife died, he had an affair with his son's nurse that ended acrimoniously, leading to several lawsuits. Not long afterward, to the shock of friends and patrons, Rembrandt began openly living out of wedlock with a servant named Hendrickje Stoffels; he avoided marriage to her since, because of a clause in Saskia's will, it could have led him to lose his late wife's inheritance.
During his final years, Rembrandt lived modestly, protecting himself from creditors and lawsuits through inventive legal maneuvers. In 1660 he and Hendrickje moved to a small house at the edge of Amsterdam. Three years later, Hendrickje died, only 37 years old, and Rembrandt himself followed six years afterward. Despite, or perhaps because of, his personal hardships, in his late years Rembrandt's style of painting became increasingly broad in execution and emotional in feeling. While many former patrons avoided him, he nonetheless continued to attract wealthy clients, such as the munitions manufacturer Jacob Trip, one of the richest men in Europe, who had Rembrandt paint his portrait around 1661; or the officials of the Clothmakers' Guild, who commissioned a group portrait in 1662.
Words like "miraculous" and "spiritual" have been applied to Rembrandt's work, and his fame encouraged widespread imitation; the result is that, for centuries, his work has been confused with that of other artists. The noted French art critic Eugene Fromentin was moved almost to tears by Rembrandt's painting The Good Samaritan in the Louvre--which scholars now generally ascribe to a follower, probably Constantijn van Renesse. In the 19th century a portrait attributed to Rembrandt, Elizabeth Bas, was so popular that it was used as the emblem for a brand of cigars; scholars now generally ascribe it to Ferdinand Bol. The 20th-century Harvard scholar Jakob Rosenberg closed his monograph on Rembrandt with a drawing that he attributed to the master; scholars now concur that it was from the hand of Abraham Furnerius.
Rembrandt's popular oil painting reproductions including: