Belief itself can inspire the great creators of fine art. The Dutch Master known as Rembrandt van Rijn died in 1669, but he remains one of the world's most popular painters. Many people can recognize his best Baroque works on sight. However, fewer people know about his deep religious faith and how it affected much of his work. Rembrandt's style is known for utilizing deep shadows and brilliant light to add a sense of dimension to his paintings. His artwork is also full of symbolism drawn from his Protestant background and his admiration for the beauty of Jewish temples, even in paintings without a clear religious theme.
Belief and Inspiration Go Hand in Hand
Rembrandt enjoyed painting portraits, especially self-portraits and images of his fellow artists and anonymous friends. When he wasn't capturing his own reflection on the canvas, he turned to the Bible for inspiration. His own readings and study of the book gave him unique insight into how a scene should be rendered in art. The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society says that the power displayed in each Biblical theme brings these amazing stories to life in a way that many other artists have not been capable of replicating since his death.
"Descent From The Cross"
One of the painter's most well known and well-loved religious paintings is "Descent From The Cross". In this oil painting, the scene of John 19:38 is illustrated in lavish detail. Joseph of Arimathea is removing Jesus from the cross, while Nicodemus looks on and a few others assist him. Mary is seen lying on the ground after fainting over to the left side of the canvas. Dramatic lighting keeps the focus on the limp form of Christ and the anguished expression on Joseph's face. Despite the heavy shadows, this illustration of the scene is still less dramatic than the version from Rubens that inspired Rembrandt to paint it in the first place.
Rembrandt also created a matching version of Acts 1:9 for the patron who commissioned the descent painting. In "Ascension", viewers are awed by the sight of Jesus rising up into the clouds while being lit with a magnificent ray of light. Art and the Bible says that analysis of the painting shows that the face of God was originally painted in the clouds above the rising Christ, but Rembrandt painted the halo of light and a tiny dove over it. Historians believe that this was done to fit the Calvinist views that were prevalent at the time.
Many Common Scenes Foster Inspiration In Rembrandt's Oil Paintings
Not all of Rembrandt's work with Christian themes was taken directly from the Bible. Many of his paintings featuring his mother included her trusty copy of the Bible or depicted her quietly reading it. When he chose to depict a famous figure like Mary, he did not dress her in brightly colored gowns as was seen in many Catholic paintings from the same time period. His mother of god looked far more like his own mother or any common Dutch housewife. This has attracted many religious people who prefer down to earth depictions of their favorite religious icons.
Rembrandt even used his paintings to criticize the church's hypocrisies at the time. His "Woman Taken in Adultery" features a stern priest decrying a woman in front of the temple. Despite the title, the painter chose to clothe the woman in pure white garments and made her shine with an inner light. She is also crying, which SEEN Magazine reports was considered the sign of true repentance in the time period. Rembrandt felt that the judgments made by men did not compare to the true judgment of God.
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