Rembrandt, Van Ryn

, an eminent painter and engraver, was born at a village near Leyden, in 1606. The real name of his family was Gerretsz, but from having resided early in life at a village upon the banks of the Rhine, he obtained that of Van Ryn. Of his personal history we have very few particulars. His father was a miller. After an unsuccessful attempt to avail himself of the advantages of a college education at Leyden, he is said to have been indebted for his earliest instruction as a painter to Jacques Vanzwanenburg. He afterwards studied under Peter Lastman at Amsterdam, under whose name a print is in circulation, which the author of the supplement to the works of Rembrandt denominates “Lot and his Daughter,” but which is intended to represent Judah and Tamar. Had this print, says Rembrandt’s late biographer, been in fact the production of Lastman, it would have appeared that Rembrandt had been much indebted to his preceptor, as well for the manner of his execution in his etchings, as for the style of his design; but it is the work of Van Noordt, probably after a design of Lastman, and is certainly posterior in point of time to many of those of Rembrandt.

Rembrandt was first brought into notice by having taken a picture to the Hague, and Coffered it for sale to an able connoisseur; who, conscious of his merit, treated him with kindness, and gave him a hundred florins for it. By this incident both himself and the public were made acquainted with his worth; and hence arose the reputation and success he afterwards enjoyed. Incessant occupation soon crowded upon him, and many pupils applied for admission into his school, with each of whom he received 100 florins a year; and whose copies of his pictures he not unfrcquently sold as originals, after bestowing a short time upon them himself. By these means, aided by incessant industry, and the sale of etchings, which he produced with great facility and skill, he accumulated considerable wealth: his income, according to Sandrart, being, for a. length of time, at least 2500 florins yearly. | His place of residence, during this successful display of his talents, was Amsterdam, where his peculiarities procured him the character of a humourist, whilst his abilities astonished and delighted his contemporaries, and he produced those works which still gratify succeeding ages. The peculiarities of his mind are as much observable in the manner of producing his effects, as in the choice of the materials. The execution of his earlier works was in a style highly laboured, with great neatness, and patient completion of the figures; such is that of the picture of the woman taken in adultery at Mr. Angerstein’s. As he advanced in art, he took liberties with the pencil, wrought with all the broad fulness of the brush, and left the touch undisturbed: he even employed the stick, the pallet-knife, or his fingers, accordingly as they were most capable of producing the effect he desired when seen at a proper distance, disregarding the appearance of the work upon a closer inspection.

In his pictures is exhibited a total inattention to the taste of the antique; he is even said to have made it a subject of ridicule, and to have jocosely denominated a collection of old armour and rich dresses, which he had collected and employed to study and paint from, “his antiques.” These he evidently used as his models, though frequently in most heterogeneous combination; but by an innate power of seizing the most striking effects produced by light and shade, superadded to the most perfect mastery over the materials of the pallet, he always excited an interest, either by ori-r ginality or beauty.

It is not, however, the approval of his power in the technical part of the art, which can or ought to satisfy the observer of the works of Rembrandt. He was, says Fuseli, a meteor in art. Disdaining to acknowledge the usual laws of admission to the Temple of Fame, he boldly forged his own keys, and entered and took possession of a most conspicuous place by his own power. He was undoubtedly a genius of the first class in whatever is not immediately related to form or taste. In spite of the most portentous deformity, and without considering the spell of his chiaroscuro, such were his powers of nature, such the grandeur, pathos, or simplicity, of his composition, from the most elevated or extensive arrangement to the meanest or most homely, that the most untutored and the best cultivated eye, plain common sense and the most refined sensibility, | dwell on them equally enthralled. Shakspeare alone excepted, no one combined with such transcendant excel* lence, so many, in all other men, unpardonable faults, and reconciled us to them. He possessed the full empire of light and shade, and the tints that float between them. He tinged his pencil with equal success in the cool of dawn, in the noon-tide ray, in the vivid flash, in evanescent twilight, and rendered darkness visible. Though made to bend a steadfast eye on the bolder phenomena of nature, yet he knew how to follow her into her calmest abodes, gave interest to insipidity or baldness, and plucked a flower in every desert. Few like Rembrandt knew how to improve an accident into a beauty, or give importance to a trifle. If ever he had a master, he had no followers. Holland was not made to comprehend his power: the succeeding school consisted of colourists, content to tip the cottage, the hamlet, the boor, the ale-pot, the shambles, and the haze of winter, with orient hues, or the glow of setting summer suns.

Mr. Daulby, who, in his late “Catalogue of the works of Rembrandt,” has appreciated his character with great precision and perspicuity, and differs not much, upon the whole, from Mr. Fuseli, observes, that whatever may be thought of Rembrandt as a historical painter, his portraits are deservedly held in the highest esteem. The accuracy of his pencil insured a striking resemblance, whilst his skill in the management of light and shadow, and his thorough acquaintance with the harmony and effect of his tints, enabled him to give to his subjects an appearance of reality so striking, as in some instances to have actually imposed on the senses of the spectators. Thus, a picture of his maid-servant placed at the window of his house in Amsterdam, where he fixed his permanent residence about 1630, is said to have deceived the passengers for several days. This fact is at least authenticated by De Piles, who had the curiosity when he was in Holland, to inquire after this picture, and finding it was well penciled, and possessed a great force, purchased it, and esteemed it as one of the highest ornaments of his cabinet. All Rembrandt’s pictures can be purchased only at very high prices. There are many fine specimens of them in this country, and many in the royal collection at Paris. We know not, however, whether Rembrandt’s merits are not more familiar, in general, from his prints, than from his pictures. Of these, | ever since his time, collections have been formed in every part of Europe, and even the emulation of sovereigns has been excited, and the treasures of royalty expended in their acquisition.

His prints, which are partly etchings, and partly engravings, performed with the point of the graver in a singular manner, have all that freedom of touch, spirit, and greatness of effect, discoverable in his paintings, supposing them to be assisted by the variety of colours. Considering the great quantity of etchings which he made, we cannot suppose they should be all equally well executed, or equal in value. Mr. Gilpin, who has resolved the excellence of Rembrandt as a painter into colouring only, observes that his prints, deprived of this palliative, have only his inferior qualifications to recommend them. These, he states, are, expression and skill in the management of light, execution, and sometimes composition. His expression has most force in the character of age. He marks as strongly as the hand of time itself. He possesses too, in a great degree, that inferior kind of expression, which gives its proper and characteristic touch to drapery, fur, metal, and every object he represents. His management of light consists chiefly in making a very strong contrast, which has often a good effect; and yet in many of his prints there is no effect at all; which gives us reason to think, he either had no principles, or published such prints before his principles were ascertained. His execution is peculiar to himself. It is rough, or neat, as he meant a sketch, or a finished piece; but always free and masterly. It produces its effect by strokes intersected in every direction; and comes nearer the idea of painting, than the execution of any other master.

There is perhaps no branch of collectorship that exhibits more caprice than that of prints in general, or of Rembrandt’s prints in particular, which appears by the different estimation in which the same subject is held, merely on account of a slight alteration in some unimportant part. Mr. Daulby instances this in the Juno without the crown, the Coppenol with the white back-ground, the Joseph with the face unshaded, and the good Samaritan with the horse’s tail white, which are regarded as inestimable; whilst the same subjects, without these distinctions, are considered as of little comparative value. Strutt mentions that, in consequence of a commission from an eminent coin | lector, he gave forty-six guineas for the Coppenol with the white back-ground, i. e. before it was finished; when, the same evening, at the same sale, he bought a most beautiful impression of the same print finished, distinguished by having a black back-ground, &c. which had an address to Rembrandt at the bottom, written by Coppenol himself (for he was a writing-master of Amsterdam, and this print is his portrait), for fourteen guineas and a half. In the second instance, he adds, that he exceeded his commission by the half guinea; but in the first did not reach it by nearly twenty guineas. Mr. Daulby seems to be of opinion that Rembrandt, who loved money, availed himself of this humour in collectors. The facility with which he could change the effect of his etchings, by altering, obliterating, or working on them again, enabled him to provide sufficient amusement for his admirers; and hence varieties frequently occur which are not easily explicable. He is even said to have frequently suffered himself to be solicited before he would consent to dispose of them; and it is a well-attested fact, that the print of “Christ healing the sick,” usually denominated the “Hundred Guelder,” was so called because he refused to sell an impression of it under that price. Of this print we may remark that it is generally esteemed the chef d’aeuvre of Rembrandt, being highly finished, the characters full of expression, and the effect of the chiaroscuro very fine. Gilpin mentions twenty guineas, as the price of a good impression of this print; Mr. Daulby thirty, to which twenty more, we are assured, must now be added. Captain Baillie purchased the plate in Holland, and retouched it for publication, in 1776, at four guineas to subscribers, and five to non-subscribers. It has since been cut up, but there are impressions of the two groups from the left extremity, one above the other. Rembrandt’s rarest and most expensive portraits are those of Wtenbogardus, called in Holland, “the Goldweigher,” and in Francethe Banker;Van Tol, the advocate, sold as high as fifty-guineas; and the burgomaster Six, of equal value. This burgomaster was Rembrandt’s particular friend and patron, and had the largest collection of his prints that ever was formed in his life-time. Strutt gives 340 as the number of Rembrandt’s prints; but the largest collection known, that of M. De Burgy, at the Hague, collected between the years 1728 and 1755, consisted in the whole, including the varieties, of 655 prints. | This great artist died at Amsterdam in 1688, or, according to some, in 1674. The little known of his personal character is not favourable. He was extremely fond of money, and not very scrupulous in his mode of procuring it. He is also represented as being fond of low company; a degrading taste, which seldom fails to affect a man’s profession, whatever it may be. 1


Pilkington. Daulby’s “Descriptive Catalogue,1796, 4to and 8vo. —Strutt’s Dictionary. Grtpin’s Essay on Prints. Argeuville, vol. III. Sir J. Reynolds’s Works; see Index.