Rembrandt and His Works
by John Burnet
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Comprising a Short Account of His Life; with a Critical Examination into His Principles and Practice of Design, Light, Shade, and Colour.

Illustrated by Examples from the Etchings of Rembrandt.



Author of "Practical Hints on Painting."

London: David Bogue, 86, Fleet Street. MDCCCXLIX.




The high estimation in which I have ever held the works of Rembrandt has been greatly increased by my going through this examination of his various excellencies, and such will ever be the case when the emanations of genius are investigated; like the lustre of precious stones, their luminous colour shines from the centre, not from the surface. With such a mine of rich ore as the works of Rembrandt contain, it is necessary to apologise for the paucity of examples offered, for in a work of this kind I have been obliged to confine myself to a certain brevity and a limited number of illustrations; still I must do my publisher the justice to say, he has not grudged any expense that would be the means of doing credit to the great artist, the enlightened patron, or my own reputation. Another circumstance has been elicited in preparing this work for publication—the great interest that all have shown in this humble attempt to make Rembrandt and his works more generally appreciated. His genius and productions seem to be congenial to the English taste. As a colourist he will ultimately lay the foundation of the British School of Painting, and prove the justice of Du Fresnoy's lines—

"He who colours well must colour bright; Think not that praise to gain by sickly white."

Had it been possible, I would have given some examples of his colour as well as of his chiaro-scuro; but I found his great charm consists more in the tone of his colouring than its arrangement. I have mentioned in the body of the work that Sir Joshua, certainly the greatest master of colour we have yet had in England, frequently speaks ambiguously of many of Rembrandt's pictures. I am therefore bound to quote a remark that he makes to his praise. In his Memoranda he says—"I considered myself as playing a great game; and instead of beginning to save money, I laid it out faster than I got it, in purchasing the best examples of art that could be procured, for I even borrowed money for this purpose. The possession of pictures by Titian, Vandyke, Rembrandt, &c., I considered as the best kind of wealth."

With these remarks I must now launch the result of my labours, having had constantly in mind that feeling which an advocate has in a good cause, not to expect, by all his exertions, to increase the reputation of his client, but an anxiety not to damage it by his weakness. Before concluding I must again revert to the interest that all my friends have taken in the success of this publication; and though it may appear invidious to particularise any, I cannot omit mention of that enthusiastic admirer of Rembrandt, my young friend Mr. E. W. Cooke; the Messrs. Smith, of Lisle-street, the connoisseurs and extensive dealers in his Etchings; Mr. Carpenter, the keeper of the prints in the British Museum; and, lastly, my young literary friend, Mr. Peter Cunningham, who has, from the beginning, entered heartily into the cause of "Rembrandt and his Works."

BROMPTON, November 4th, 1848.




In commencing an account of the life of Rembrandt Van Rhyn and his works, I feel both a pleasure and a certain degree of confidence, as, from my first using a pencil, his pictures have been my delight and gratification, which have continued to increase through a long life of investigation. Though I cannot expect to enhance the high estimation in which Rembrandt is held by all persons competent to appreciate his extraordinary powers, nevertheless, the publication of the results of my study may tend to spread a knowledge of his principles and practice, which may be advantageous to similar branches in other schools; for, notwithstanding that his style is in the greatest degree original and peculiar to himself, yet it is founded upon those effects existing in nature which are to be discovered, more or less, in the works of all the great masters of colouring and chiaro-scuro. Of his early life little is known; for, unless cradled in the higher circles of society, the early lives of eminent men frequently remain shrouded in obscurity. The development of their genius alone draws attention to their history, which is generally progressive; hence a retrospective view is ambiguous. Little is known either of Rembrandt's birth or the place of his death; what is known has already been related, from Houbraken to Bryan, and from Bryan to Nieuwenhuys, and anecdotes have accumulated, for something new must be said. It is, however, fortunate that in searching into the source from which this extraordinary artist drew his knowledge, we have only to look into the great book of Nature, which existed at the time of Apelles and Raffaelle; and, notwithstanding the diversity of styles adopted by all succeeding painters, beauties and peculiarities are still left sufficient to establish the highest reputation for any one who has the genius to perceive them, and the industry to make them apparent. This was the cause of Rembrandt's captivating excellence; neither a combination of Coreggio and Titian, nor of Murillo and Velasquez, but as if all the great principles of chiaro-scuro and colour were steeped and harmonized in the softening shades of twilight; and this we perceive in nature, producing the most soothing and bewitching results. These digressions may, however, come more properly into notice when Rembrandt's principles of colour come under review.

Rembrandt Van Rhyn, the subject of this memoir, was born in the year 1606, between Leydendorp and Koukerk, in the neighbourhood of Leyden, on the Rhyn, but certainly not in a mill, as there is no habitable dwelling in the one now known as his father's. My excellent young friend, Mr. E. W. Cooke, whose works breathe the true spirit of the best of the Dutch school, in a letter upon this subject, says—


"I send you another sketch of the mill; the picture, including the doorzigte, or view out of the window, I painted on the spot, and that picture is now in the possession of the King of Holland, having taken it back with me to show him. The mill was a magazine for powder during the Spanish invasion; it was soon after converted into a corn mill, and was in the possession of Hernan Geritz Van Rhyn when his son Rembrandt was born; it is situated at Koukerk, on the old Rhyn, near Leyden. I hope you will correct the vulgar error that Rembrandt was born IN a mill. There are often dwelling houses attached to water-mills, such as we have in England; but in Holland, not such a structure as a water-mill, with water-power; the water-mills there are only draining mills, such as we have in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, &c. Surely the noise and movement of a windmill would ill accord with the confinement of any lady, especially the mother of so glorious a fellow as Rembrandt. For the honour of such association I hope you will not omit my name in the work, for I painted three pictures of that precious relic.

"Yours, &c.

"E. W. COOKE."

The mill now known as the one possessed by Rembrandt's father is built of stone, with an inscription, and "Rembrandt," in gold letters, over the door. The one etched by his eminent son is a wooden structure, which must have long since fallen into decay. As they are both interesting, from association of ideas, I have given etchings of them.

The mother of Rembrandt was Neeltje Willems Van Zuitbroek, whose portrait he has etched. As he was an only child, his parents were anxious to give him a good education, and therefore sent him to the Latin school at Leyden, in order to bring him up to the profession of the law; but, like our own inimitable Shakspere, he picked up "small Latin and less Greek." Having shown an early inclination for painting, they placed him under the tuition of Jacob Van Zwaanenburg, a painter unmentioned by any biographer; he afterwards entered the studio of Peter Lastman, and finally received instruction from Jacob Pinas. The two last had visited Rome, but, notwithstanding, could have given little instruction to Rembrandt, as their works show no proof of their having studied the Italian school to much purpose. After receiving a knowledge of a few rules, such as they could communicate, he returned home, and commenced painting from nature, when he laid the foundation of a style in art unapproached either before his time or since. In 1627 he is said, by Houbraken, to have visited the Hague, when, by the price he received for one of his pictures, he discovered his value as an artist. The neighbourhood of the Rhine was now given up for the city of Amsterdam, where he set up his easel in the year 1628, under the patronage of the Burgomaster Six, and other wealthy admirers of the fine arts.

Rembrandt's first works, like all the early works of eminent artists, were carefully finished; the work that raised him to the greatest notice, in the first instance, is Professor Tulpius giving an Anatomical Lecture on a dead Body,[1] and is dated 1632. Reynolds, in his Tour through Flanders, speaking of this picture, says:—"The Professor Tulpius dissecting a corpse which lies on the table, by Rembrandt. To avoid making it an object disagreeable to look at, the figure is just cut at the wrist. There are seven other portraits, coloured like nature itself; fresh, and highly finished. One of the figures behind has a paper in his hand, on which are written the names of the rest. Rembrandt has also added his own name, with the date 1632. The dead body is perfectly well drawn, (a little foreshortened,) and seems to have been just washed; nothing can be more truly the colour of dead flesh. The legs and feet, which are nearest the eye, are in shadow; the principal light, which is on the body, is by that means preserved of a compact form; all these figures are dressed in black." He further adds—"Above stairs is another Rembrandt, of the same kind of subject: Professor Nieman, standing by a dead body, which is so much foreshortened that the hands and feet almost touch each other; the dead man lies on his back, with his feet towards the spectator. There is something sublime in the character of the head, which reminds one of Michael Angelo; the whole is finely painted,—the colouring much like Titian."

Simeon in the Temple, in the Museum of the Hague, painted in 1631, is in his first manner; as are The Salutation, in the Gallery of the Marquis of Westminster, painted in 1640; and The Woman taken in Adultery, in the National Gallery, painted in 1644, all on panel, and finished with the care and minuteness of Gerhard Dow. His most successful career may be taken from 1630 to 1656. About the year 1645 he married Miss Saskia Van Uylenburg, by whom he had an only son, named Titus, the inheritor of the little wealth left after his father's embarrassments, but, though bred to the arts, inheriting little of his father's genius. In what part of Amsterdam he resided at this time we have no record, nor is the house now shown as Rembrandt's, and which was the subject of a mortgage, sufficiently authenticated to prove its identity; he may have lived in it, but it could not at any time have been sufficiently capacious to contain all the effects given in the catalogue extracted from the register by Mr. Nieuwenhuys.

The late Sir David Wilkie, in a letter to his sister, says:—"At the Hague we were delayed with rain, which continued nearly the whole of our way through Leyden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. Wherever we went, our great subject of interest was seeing the native places of the great Dutch painters, and the models and materials which they have immortalized. At Amsterdam we sallied forth in the evening, in search of the house of Rembrandt; it is in what is now the Jews' quarter, and is, in short, a Jew's old china shop; it is well built, four stories high, but it greatly disappointed me. The shop is high in the ceiling, but all the other rooms are low and little, and, compared with the houses of Titian at Venice, of Claude at Rome, and of Rubens at Antwerp, is quite unworthy the house of the great master of the school of Holland. Even if stuffed, as it is now, with every description of the pottery of Canton, it could not have held even a sixth part of the inventory Nieuwenhuys found, as the distrained effects of Rembrandt, and the only solution is, that he may have once lived there; but as his will, still extant, is dated in another street, and as several of the pictures he painted could not be contained in the rooms we were in, we must conclude that, like the shell which encloses the caterpillar, it was only a temporary abode for the winged genius to whom art owes so much of its brilliancy."

As the place of his residence is veiled in obscurity, so is the place of his demise, which is supposed to have taken place in 1664, as Mr. Smith, in a note to his Life of Rembrandt, says—"that no picture is recorded bearing a later date than 1664, and the balance of his property was paid over to his son in 1665."

Mr. Woodburn, in a Catalogue of his Drawings, says:—"It is uncertain what became of him after his bankruptcy, or where he died; a search has been made among the burials at Amsterdam, until the year 1674, but his name does not occur; probably Baldinucci is correct in stating that he died at Stockholm, in 1670;" others have mentioned Hull, and some give a credence to his having fled to Yarmouth, during his troubles, and mention two pictures, a lawyer and his wife, said to have been painted there; they are whole lengths, and certainly in his later manner, but I could not gather any authentic account to build conjecture upon, as the intercourse between Amsterdam and Yarmouth has been kept up from olden time, and a Dutch fair held every three years on the shore. The ancestors of the family in whose possession they still are, may have visited Holland; but, amongst such conflicting opinions, it is useless to attempt elucidation of the truth of this. We may rest certain that his works will be appreciated in proportion as a knowledge of their excellence is extended.

[Sidenote: Extract from the Book of Sureties of Real Estates remaining at the Secretary's Office of the City of Amsterdam, fol. 89, &c.]


Good for Gls. 6952—9. the 29.7bre—Willem Muilm.

I the undersigned acknowledge to have received of the said Commissaries the undermentioned six thousand nine hundred and fifty-two Guldens nine Stuivers, the 5th November, 1665.

Received the contents, TITUS VAN RYN.

Before the undersigned Magistrates appeared Titus Van Ryn, the only surviving son of Rembrandt Van Ryn and of Saskia Van Uylenburg (having obtained his veniam aetatis), as principal,—Abraham Fransz, merchant, living in the Angelier Straat, and Bartholomeus Van Benningen, woollen-draper, in the Liesdel, as guarantees. And jointly, and each of them separately, promised to re-deliver into the hands of the Commissaries of the Insolvent Estates, when called upon, the said six thousand nine hundred fifty-two Guldens and nine Stuivers, which the said Titus Van Ryn shall receive of and from the before-mentioned Commissaries, the money arising from the house and ground in the Anthonis bree Straat, A. 1658, which was sold under execution, and from the personal estate of Saskia Van Uylenburg and Rembrandt Van Ryn aforesaid; hereby binding all their goods, moveables, and immoveables, present and future, in order to recover the said sum and costs. Therefore the before-mentioned principal promised to indemnify his said sureties under a similar obligation as above written.—Actum, the 9th September, 1665.


2207: a 3:3 6952:1 (Stamp) 8 6952 9

The following Catalogue is extracted from the Register L R. fol. 29 to 39 inclusive, of the Inventory of the Effects of REMBRANDT VAN RHYN, deposited in the Office of the Administration of Insolvent Estates at Amsterdam, Anno 1656.



A Picture, representing The Gingerbread Baker By Brauwer.

A ditto, The Gamblers Ditto.

A ditto, A Woman and Child Rembrandt.

A ditto, The Interior of an Artist's Painting Room Brauwer.

A ditto, The Interior of a Kitchen Ditto.

A Statue of a Woman, in plaster.

Two Children, in plaster.

A Sleeping Child, in plaster.

A Landscape By Rembrandt.

A ditto Ditto.

A Woman represented standing Ditto.

A Christmas Night Piece Jean Lievensz.

St. Jerome Rembrandt.

Dead Hares, a small picture Ditto.

A small picture of a Pig Ditto.

A small Landscape Hercules Segers.

A Landscape Jean Lievensz.

A ditto Ditto.

A ditto Rembrandt.

A Combat of Lions Ditto.

A Landscape, by moonlight Jean Lievensz.

A Head Rembrandt.

A ditto Ditto.

A picture of Still Life, objects retouched Ditto.

A Soldier, clad in armour By Rembrandt.

A Skull, and other objects, styled a Vanitas, retouched Ditto.

A ditto, ditto, retouched Ditto.

A Sea Piece Hendrick Antonisz.

Four Spanish Chairs, covered with leather.

Two ditto, ditto in black.

A Plank of Wood.


A small picture of the Samaritan, retouched By Rembrandt.

The Rich Man Palma Vecchio. (The half of this picture belongs to Peter de la Tombe).

A View of the Back of a House By Rembrandt.

Two Sporting Dogs, done after nature Ditto.

The Descent from the Cross, a large picture, in a gilt frame Ditto.

The Raising of Lazarus Ditto.

A Courtesan Dressing Ditto.

A Woody Scene Hercules Segers.

Tobias, &c. Lastman.

The Raising of Lazarus Jean Lievensz.

A Landscape, representing a mountainous country Rembrandt.

A small Landscape By Govert Jansz.

Two Heads Rembrandt.

A Picture, en grisaille Jean Lievensz.

A ditto, ditto Parcelles.

A Head Rembrandt.

A ditto Brauwer.

A View of the Dutch Coast Parcelles.

A ditto of the same, smaller Ditto.

A Hermit Jean Lievensz.

Two Small Heads Lucas Van Valkenburg.

A Camp on Fire The elder Rassan.

A Quack Doctor After Brauwer.

Two Heads By Jan Pinas.

A perspective View Lucas Van Leyden.

A Priest Jean Lievensz.

A Model Rembrandt.

A Flock of Sheep Ditto.

A Drawing Ditto.

The Flagellation of our Lord Ditto.

A Picture, done en grisaille Parcelles.

A ditto, ditto Simon de Vlieger.

A small Landscape Rembrandt.

A Head of a Woman, after Nature Ditto.

A Head Rafaelle Urbino.

A View of Buildings, after Nature Rembrandt.

A Landscape, after Nature Ditto.

A View of Buildings Hercules Segers.

The Goddess Juno Jacob Pinas.

A Looking Glass, in a black ebony frame.

An ebony Frame.

A Wine Cooler, in marble.

A Table of walnut tree, covered with a carpet.

Seven Spanish Chairs, with green velvet cushion.


A Picture By Pietro Testa.

A Woman with a Child Rembrandt.

Christ on the Cross, a model Ditto.

A Naked Woman Ditto.

A Copy, after a picture Annibal Caracci.

Two Half Figures Brauwer.

A Copy, after a picture Annibal Caracci.

A Sea View Parcelles.

The Head of an Old Woman Van Dyck.

A Portrait of a deceased Person Abraham Vink.

The Resurrection A. Van Leyden.

A Sketch Rembrandt.

Two Heads, after Nature Ditto.

The Consecration of Solomon's Temple, done en grisaille Ditto.

The Circumcision, a copy After Ditto.

Two small Landscapes By Hercules Segers.

A gilt Frame.

A small Oak Table.

Four Shades for engraving.

A Clothes Press.

Four old Chairs.

Four green Chair Cushions.

A Copper Kettle.

A Portmanteau.


A Woody Scene By An Unknown Master.

An Old Man's Head Rembrandt.

A large Landscape Hercules Segers.

A Portrait of a Woman Rembrandt.

An Allegory of the Union of the Country Ditto.

This is probably the picture now in the Collection of Samuel Rogers, Esq.

A View in a Village By Govert Jansz.

A Young Ox, after Nature Rembrandt.

The Samaritan Woman, a large picture, attributed to Giorgione, the half of which belongs to Peter de la Tombe.

Three antique Statues.

A Sketch of the Entombment By Rembrandt.

The Incredulity of St. Peter Aertje Van Leyden.

The Resurrection of our Lord Rembrandt.

The Virgin Mary Rafaelle Urbino.

A Head of Christ Rembrandt.

A Winter Scene Grimaer.

The Crucifixion. Probably intended for Novellari Lely of Novellaene.

A Head of Christ Rembrandt.

A young Bull or Ox Lastman.

A Vanitas, retouched Rembrandt.

An Ecce Homo, en grisaille Ditto.

Abraham Offering up his Son Jean Lievensz.

A Vanitas, retouched Rembrandt.

A Landscape, en grisaille Hercules Segers.

An Evening Scene Rembrandt.

A large Looking Glass.

Six Chairs, with blue cushions.

An oak Table.

A Table Cloth.

A Napkin Press.

A Wardrobe, or Armoir.

A Bed and a Bolster.

Two Pillows.

Two Coverlids.

Blue Hangings of a Bed.

A Chair.

A Stove.


A pair of Globes.

A Box, containing minerals.

A small Architectural Column.

A Tin Pot.

The Figure of an Infant.

Two pieces of Indian Jadd.

A Japan or Chinese Cup.

A Bust of an Empress.

An Indian Powder Box.

A Bust of the Emperor Augustus.

An Indian Cup.

A Bust of the Emperor Tiberius.

An Indian Work-Box, for a lady.

A Bust of Caius.

A pair of Roman Leggins.

Two Porcelain Figures.

A Bust of Heraclitus.

Two Porcelain Figures.

A Bust of Nero.

Two Iron Helmets.

An Indian Helmet.

An ancient Helmet.

A Bust of a Roman Emperor.

A Negro, cast from Nature.

A Bust of Socrates.

A Bust of Homer.

A ditto of Aristotle.

An antique Head, done in brown.

A Faustina.

A Coat of Armour, and a Helmet.

A Bust of the Emperor Galba.

A ditto of the Emperor Otho.

A ditto of the Emperor Vitellius.

A ditto of the Emperor Vespasian.

A ditto of the Emperor Titus Vespasian.

A ditto of the Emperor Domitian.

A ditto of Silius Brutus.

Forty-seven specimens of Botany.

Twenty-three ditto of Land and Marine Animals.

A Hammock, and two Calabashes.

Eight various objects, in plaster, done from Nature.


A quantity of Shells, Marine Plants, and sundry curious objects, in plaster, done from Nature.

An antique Statue of Cupid.

A small Fuzil, and a Pistol.

A steel Shield, richly embossed with Figures, by Quintin Matsys, very curious and rare.

An antique Powder-horn.

A ditto; Turkish.

A Box, containing Medals.

A Shield of curious workmanship.

Two Naked Figures.

A Cast from the face of Prince Maurice, taken after his death.

A Lion and a Bull, in plaster, after Nature.

A number of Walking Sticks.

A long Bow.


A Book, containing Sketches by Rembrandt.

A ditto, containing Prints engraved in wood by Lucas Van Leyden.

A ditto ditto, by Wael and others.

A ditto, containing Etchings by Baroccio and Vanni.

A ditto, containing Prints after Rafaelle Urbino.

A gilt Model of a French Bed, by Verhulst.

A Book full of Engravings, many of which are double impressions, by Lucas Van Leyden.

A ditto, containing a great number of Drawings by the best masters.

A ditto, containing a number of fine Drawings by Andrea Mantegna.

A ditto, containing Drawings by various masters, and some Prints.

A ditto, larger, full of Drawings and Prints.

A ditto, containing a number of Miniatures, Wood-cuts, and Copper-plate Prints, of the various costumes of countries.

A Book, full of Prints by Old Breughel.

A ditto, containing Prints after Rafaelle Urbino.

A ditto, containing valuable Prints, after the same.

A ditto, full of Prints by Tempesta.

A ditto, containing Wood-cuts and Engravings by Lucas Cranach.

A ditto, containing Prints after the Caracci and Guido, and Spagnoletti.

A ditto, containing Engravings and Etchings by Tempesta.

A large Folio of ditto ditto, by Ditto.

A ditto ditto, various.

A Book, containing Prints by Goltius and Mueller.

A ditto, containing Prints after Rafaelle Urbino, very fine impressions.

A Book, containing Drawings by Brauwer.

A Folio, containing a great number of Prints after Titian.

A number of curious Jars and Venetian Glasses.

An old Book, containing a number of Sketches by Rembrandt.

A ditto ditto.

A large Folio of Sketches by Rembrandt.

An empty Folio.

A Backgammon Board.

An antique Chair.

A Book, containing Chinese Drawings in miniature.

A large Cluster of White Coral.

A Book full of Prints of Statues.

A ditto full of Prints, a complete work by Heemskirk.

A ditto, full of Sketches by Rubens, Van Dyck, and other masters.

A ditto, containing the Works of Michael Angelo Buonarotti.

Two small Baskets.

A Book, containing Prints of free Subjects, after Rafaelle, Roest, Annibal Caracci, and Giulio Romano.

A ditto, full of Landscapes by the most distinguished masters.

A Book, containing Views of Buildings in Turkey, by Melchoir Lowick, Hendrick Van Helst, and others; and also the Costumes of that Country.

An Indian Basket, containing various Engravings by Rembrandt, Hollar, Cocq, and others.

A Book, bound in black leather, containing a selection of Etchings by Rembrandt.

A paper Box, full of Prints by Hupe Martin, Holbein, Hans Broemer, and Israel Mentz.

A Book, containing a complete set of Etchings by Rembrandt.

A Folio, containing Academical Drawings of Men and Women, by Rembrandt.

A Book, containing Drawings of celebrated Buildings in Rome, and other Views, by the best masters.

A Chinese Basket, full of various Ornaments.

A Folio.

A ditto.

A ditto, containing Landscapes after Nature by Rembrandt.

A Book, containing a selection of Proof Prints after Rubens and Jacques Jordaens.

A ditto, full of Drawings by Miervelt, Titian, and others.

A Chinese Basket.

A ditto ditto, containing Prints of Architectural Subjects.

A ditto, containing Drawings of various Animals from Nature by Rembrandt.

A ditto, full of Prints after Frans Floris, Bruitwael, Goltius, and Abraham Bloemart.

A quantity of Drawings from the Antique, by Rembrandt.

Five Books, in quarto, containing Drawings by Rembrandt.

A Book full of Prints of Architectural Views.

The Medea, a Tragedy, by Jan Six.

A quantity of Prints, by Jacques Callot.

A Book, bound in parchment, containing Drawings of Landscapes, after Nature, by Rembrandt.

A ditto, full of Sketches of Figures by Rembrandt.

A ditto, various.

A small Box, with wood divisions.

A Book, containing Views drawn by Rembrandt.

A ditto, containing fine Sketches.

A ditto, containing Statues after Nature by Rembrandt.

A ditto, various.

A ditto, containing pen Sketches by Peter Lastman.

A ditto, containing Drawings in red chalk by Ditto.

A ditto, containing Sketches drawn with the pen by Rembrandt.

A ditto, various.

A ditto, ditto.

A Book, various.

A ditto, ditto.

A ditto, ditto.

A Folio of large Drawings of Views in the Tyrol, by Roeland Savery.

A ditto, full of Drawings by celebrated masters.

A Book, in quarto, containing Sketches by Rembrandt.

A Book of Wood-cuts of the proportions of the Human Figure, by Albert Durer.

A Book, containing Engravings by Jean Lievensz and Ferdinand Bol.

Several parcels of Sketches by Rembrandt and others.

A quantity of Paper, of a large size.

A Box, containing Prints by Van Vliet, after Pictures by Rembrandt.

A Screen, covered with cloth.

A steel Gorget.

A Drawer, containing a Bird of Paradise, and six Forms of divers patterns.

A German Book, containing Prints of Warriors.

A ditto, with Wood-cuts.

Flavius Josephus, in German, illustrated with Engravings by Tobias Kinderman.

An ancient Bible.

A marble Inkstand.

A Cast, in Plaster, of Prince Maurice.


St. Joseph By Aertje Van Leyden.

Three Prints, in frames.

The Salutation.

A Landscape after Nature Rembrandt.

A Landscape Hercules Segers.

The Descent from the Cross Rembrandt.

A Head after Nature.

A Skull Retouched by Rembrandt.

A Model, in plaster, of the Bath of Diana By Adam Van Vianen.

A Model from Nature Rembrandt.

A Picture of Three Puppies, after Nature Titus Van Ryn.

A ditto of a Book Ditto.

A Head of the Virgin Ditto.

The Flagellation A Copy after Rembrandt.

A Landscape by Moonlight Retouched by Ditto.

A Naked Woman, a Model from Nature By Ditto.

An unfinished Landscape from Nature Ditto.

A Horse painted from Nature By Rembrandt.

A small Picture Young Hals.

A Fish, after Nature.

A Model, in plaster, of a Bason, adorned with Figures, by Adam Van Vianen.

An old Chest.

Four Chairs, with black leather seats.

A Table.


Thirty-three pieces of Armour and Musical Instruments.

Sixty pieces of Indian Armour, and several Bows, Arrows, and Darts.

Thirteen bamboo Pipes, and several Flutes.

Thirteen objects, consisting of Bows, Arrows, Shields, &c.

A number of Heads and Hands, moulded from Nature, together with a Harp, and a Turkish Bow.

Seventeen Hands and Arms, moulded from Nature.

Some Stag Horns.

Five ancient Casques.

Four long Bows, and cross Bows.

Nine Gourds and Bottles.

Two modelled Busts of Bartholt Been and his Wife.

A plaster Cast from a Grecian Antique.

A Bust of the Emperor Agrippa.

A ditto of the Emperor Aurelius.

A Head of Christ, of the size of Life.

A Head of a Satyr.

A Sibil—Antique.

The Laocoon—Ditto.

A large Marine Vegetable.

A Vitellius.

A Seneca.

Three or four antique Heads of Women.

A metal Cannon.

A quantity of Fragments of antique Dresses, of divers colours.

Seven Musical stringed Instruments.

Two small Pictures by Rembrandt.


Twenty Objects, consisting of Halberds and Swords of various kinds.

Dresses of an Indian Man and Woman.

Five Cuirasses.

A wooden Trumpet.

A Picture of Two Negroes by Rembrandt.

A Child by Michael Angelo Buonarotti.


The Skins of a Lion and a Lioness, and two Birds.

A large Piece, representing Diana.

A Bittern, done from Nature, by Rembrandt.


Ten Paintings, of various sizes, by Rembrandt.

A Bed.


A pewter Pot.

Several Pots and Pans.

A small Table.

A Cupboard.

Several old Chairs.

Two Chair Cushions.


Nine Plates.

Two earthen Dishes.


Three Shirts.

Six Pocket Handkerchiefs.

Twelve Napkins.

Three Table Cloths.

Some Collars and Wristbands.

The preceding Inventory was made on the 25th and 26th of July, 1656.

* * * * *

Free Translation of the Autograph Letter on the opposite page.


It is, your Honour, with reluctance, that I am about to trouble you with a letter, and that, because on applying to the receiver Utenbogaert, (to whom I have entrusted the management of my money matters,) as to how the treasurer Volberger acquits himself of the yearly 4 per cent. interest, the said Utenbogaert, on Wednesday last, replied,—that Volberger has every half year received the interest on this annuity, and has done so up to the present time; so that now, at the annuity office, more than 4000 florins being owing, and this being the exact and true statement, I beg of you, my kind-natured Sir, that the exact sum of money at my disposal may be at once made clear, in order that I may at last receive the sum of 1244 florins, long since due; as I shall always strive to recompense such by reciprocal services, and with lasting friendship; so that with my most cordial greetings, and the prayer that God may long keep you in good health, and grant you bliss hereafter,

I remain, Your Honour's Obedient and devoted Servant,


I am living on the Binnen Aemstel, at the Confectioner's.

10th Oct.

VAN SUYLYKEN, Esq. Counsellor and Secretary to his Highness in the Hague.

Per post.

We cannot reflect upon the foregoing Catalogue without regretting that Rembrandt, in his old age, should have, like our own Milton,

"Fall'n on evil days, On evil days though fall'n and evil tongues."

The troubles existing at that time pervaded the whole of Europe, and works, both of poetry and painting, produced little emolument to the possessors; consequently the whole of this rich assemblage of works of art, the accumulation of years, fell a sacrifice to the hammer of the auctioneer, producing little more than four thousand nine hundred guilders. By its list, however, we are enabled to refute the assertion of many of his biographers, that he neglected the antique, and the works of the great masters of the Italian school, the catalogue including casts from ancient sculpture, and drawings and prints after Michael Angelo, Raffaelle, and Titian, which at that time were rare and of great value. We find by a memorandum on the back of one of Rembrandt's proofs, on India paper, of his etching of "Christ Healing the Sick," which now goes by the name of "The Hundred Guilder Print," that, "wishing to possess a print of the Plague, by Mark Antonio, after Raffaelle, valued by the dealer Van Zomers at a hundred florins, he gave the proof in exchange;" and further, "that such proofs were never sold, but given as presents to his friends." We may perceive by this the anxiety he had to collect works that were excellent. As we do not discover amongst the various articles enumerated, either palette or brushes, we may infer that on quitting Amsterdam he carried off all his working apparatus.

With this short notice of his life, and these few remarks, I must now enter into what is more properly the subject of this work, a critical examination into his principles and practice.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Nieuwenhuys, in a note in his Life of Rembrandt, mentions that the Directors of the Anatomical Theatre resolved to sell this picture by auction, for the purpose of augmenting the funds for supporting the widows of members, and in consequence the sale was announced for Monday the 4th of August, 1828. Since the year 1632, until this period, it had always remained in that establishment, as a gift from Professor N. Tulp, who presented it as a remembrance of himself and colleagues. Mr. N. had no sooner heard that the piece in question was to be sold, than he went to Amsterdam, with the intention of purchasing it; but, upon arriving, was informed that his Majesty, the King of the Netherlands, had opposed the sale, and given orders to the Minister for the Home Department to obtain it for the sum of 32,000 guldens, and caused it to be placed in the Museum at the Hague, where it remains. The picture is on canvas: height 64-1/2 inches, width 83-1/2 inches.]


The early pictures, in all ages, either merely indicate the character of bas-reliefs or single statues,—a cold continuity of outline, and an absence of foreshortening. The first move in advance, and that which constitutes their pictorial character, in contradistinction to sculpture, is an assemblage of figures, repeating the various forms contained in the principal ones, and thus rendering them less harsh by extension and doubling of the various shapes, as we often perceive in a first sketch of a work, where the eye of the spectator chooses, out of the multiplicity of outlines, those forms most agreeable to his taste. The next step to improvement, and giving the work a more natural appearance, is the influence of shadow, so as to make the outlines of the prominent more distinct, and those in the background less harsh and cutting, and consequently more retiring. The application of shadow, however, not only renders works of art more natural, by giving the appearance of advancing and retiring to objects represented upon a flat surface—thus keeping them in their several situations, according to the laws of aerial perspective—but enables the artist to draw attention to the principal points of the story, and likewise to preserve the whole in agreeable form, by losing and pronouncing individual parts. Coreggio was the first who carried out this principle to any great extent; but it was reserved for Rembrandt, by his boldness and genius, to put a limit to its further application. Breadth, the constituent character of this mode of treatment, cannot be extended; indeed, it is said that Rembrandt himself extended it too far; for, absorbing seven-eighths in obscurity and softness, though it renders the remaining portion more brilliant, yet costs too much. This principle, however, contains the greatest poetry of the art, in contradistinction to the severe outline and harsh colouring of the great historical style.


To arrive at a true knowledge of the inventions and compositions of Rembrandt, it is necessary, in the first instance, to examine those of Albert Durer, the Leonardo da Vinci of Germany. The inventions of this extraordinary man are replete with the finest feelings of art, notwithstanding the Gothic dryness and fantastic forms of his figures. The folds of his draperies are more like creased pieces of paper than cloth, and his representation of the naked is either bloated and coarse, or dry and meagre. His backgrounds have all the extravagant characteristics of a German romance, and are totally destitute of aerial perspective; yet, with the exception of the character of the people and scenery of Nuremburg, he is not more extravagant in his forms than the founder of the Florentine school, and had he been educated in Italy, he in all probability would have rivalled Raffaelle in the purity of his design. In his journal, which he kept when he travelled into the Netherlands, he mentions some prints he sent to Rome, in exchange for those he expected in return, and it is mentioned that Raffaelle admired his works highly. The multitude of his engravings, both on copper and wood, which were spread over Germany, influenced, in a great degree, the style of composition of those artists who came after him, and accordingly we see many points of coincidence in the compositions of Rembrandt. A century, however, had opened up a greater insight into the mysteries of painting than either Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Durer ever thought of; one alone,—viz. aerial perspective, seems to mark the line between the ancient and modern school; for though Durer invented several instruments for perfecting lineal perspective, his works exhibit no attempt at giving the indistinctness of distant objects. To Rubens, Germany and Holland were indebted for this essential part of the art, so necessary to a true representation of Nature. This great genius, in his contemplation of the works of Titian and others, both at Venice and in Madrid, soon emancipated the art of his country from the Gothic hardness of Lucas Cranach, Van Eyck, and Albert Durer; but notwithstanding his taste and knowledge of what constituted the higher qualities of the Italian school, the irregular combinations and multitudinous assemblage of figures found in the early German compositions remained with him to the last. His works are like a melodrama, filled with actors who have no settled action or expression allotted them, while in the works of Raffaelle, and other great composers, the persons introduced are limited to the smallest number necessary to explain the story. This condensing of the interest, if I may use the expression, was borrowed originally from the Greeks, of whose sculptures the Romans availed themselves to a great degree. On the other hand, this looseness of arrangement, and what may be termed ornamental, not only spread through Germany, but infected the schools of Venice; witness the works of Tintoret and Paul Veronese, in which the expression of the countenance absolutely goes for nothing, and the whole arrangement is drawn out in a picturesque point of view, merely to amuse and gratify the eye of the spectator.

Now, with all these infectious examples before him, Rembrandt has done much to concentrate the action, and reduce the number drawn out on the canvas to the mere personages who figure in the history. Witness his "Salutation of the Virgin," in the Marquis of Westminster's collection, which is evidently engendered from the idea contained in the design of Albert Durer. His strict application to nature, while it enabled him to destroy the unmeaning combinations of his predecessors, led him into many errors, by the simple fact of drawing from the people in his presence. But are not others chargeable with some incongruities? Are the Madonnas of Murillo anything but a transcript of the women of Andalusia? The women of Venice figure in the historical compositions of Titian and Paul Veronese, and the Fornarina of Raffaelle is present in his most sacred subjects; those, therefore, who accuse Rembrandt of vulgarity of form, might with equal justice draw an invidious comparison between classic Italian and high Dutch. In many of his compositions he has embodied the highest feeling and sentiment, and in his study of natural simplicity approaches Raffaelle nearer than any of the Flemish or Dutch painters. Of course, as a colourist and master of light and shade, he is all powerful; but I allude, at present, to the mere conception and embodying of his subjects on this head.

Fuseli says,—"Rembrandt was, in my opinion, a genius of the first class in whatever relates not to form. In spite of the most portentous deformity, and without considering the spell of his chiaro-scuro, 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 and most homely, that the best cultivated eye, the purest sensibility, and the most refined taste, dwell on them equally enthralled. Shakspere alone excepted, no one combined with so much transcendent excellence so many, in all other men unpardonable, faults,—and reconciled us to them. He possessed the full empire of light and shade, and of all the tints that float between them; he tinged his pencil with equal success in the cool of dawn, in the noon-day ray, in the livid 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 and baldness, and plucked a flower in every desert. None ever, 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."

And in another lecture, speaking of the advantage of a low horizon, he says:—"What gives sublimity to Rembrandt's Ecce Homo more than this principle? a composition which, though complete, hides in its grandeur the limits of its scenery. Its form is a pyramid, whose top is lost in the sky, as its base in tumultuous murky waves. From the fluctuating crowds who inundate the base of the tribunal, we rise to Pilate, surrounded and perplexed by the varied ferocity of the sanguinary synod to whose remorseless gripe he surrenders his wand, and from him we ascend to the sublime resignation of innocence in Christ, and, regardless of the roar, securely repose on his countenance. Such is the grandeur of a conception, which in its blaze absorbs the abominable detail of materials too vulgar to be mentioned. Had the materials been equal to the conception and composition, the Ecce Homo of Rembrandt, even unsupported by the magic of its light and shade, or his spell of colours, would have been an assemblage of superhuman powers."

Reynolds, in his Eighth Discourse, speaking of the annoyance the mind feels at the display of too much variety and contrast, proceeds to say:—"To apply these general observations, which belong equally to all arts, to ours in particular. In a composition, where the objects are scattered and divided into many equal parts, the eye is perplexed and fatigued, from not knowing where to find the principal action, or which is the principal figure; for where all are making equal pretensions to notice, all are in equal danger of neglect. The expression which is used very often on these occasions is, the piece wants repose—a word which perfectly expresses a relief of the mind from that state of hurry and anxiety which it suffers when looking at a work of this character. On the other hand, absolute unity, that is, a large work consisting of one group or mass of light only, would be as defective as an heroic poem without episode, or any collateral incidents to recreate the mind with that variety which it requires. An instance occurs to me of two painters (Rembrandt and Poussin) of characters totally opposite to each other in every respect, but in nothing more than in their mode of composition and management of light and shadow. Rembrandt's manner is absolute unity; he often has but one group, and exhibits little more than one spot of light in the midst of a large quantity of shadow: if he has a second mass that second bears no proportion to the principal. Poussin, on the contrary, has scarcely any principle mass of light at all, and his figures are often too much dispersed, without sufficient attention to place them in groups. The conduct of these two painters is entirely the reverse of what might be expected from their general style and character, the works of Poussin being as much distinguished for simplicity as those of Rembrandt for combination. Even this conduct of Poussin might proceed from too great affection to simplicity of another kind, too great a desire to avoid the ostentation of art with regard to light and shadow, on which Rembrandt so much wished to draw the attention; however, each of them ran into contrary extremes, and it is difficult to determine which is the most reprehensible, both being equally distant from the demands of nature and the purposes of art."

This unity is observable in the composition of Rembrandt; even where a multiplicity of figures are employed, they are so grouped that the masses of light and shade are interrupted as little as possible; and it is only in his earlier works, such as those now in the Munich Gallery, where this isolated light is carried to extravagance. In many of his later pictures, we have not only subordinate groups, but a repetition of the principal lights; also a greater breadth of half-tint. "Composition," says Reynolds, "which is the principal part of the invention of a painter, is by far the greatest difficulty he has to encounter. Every man that can paint at all, can execute individual parts; but to keep these parts in due subordination as relative to a whole, requires a comprehensive view of the art, that more strongly implies genius than perhaps any other quality whatever." Now Rembrandt possessed this power in an eminent degree. At the revival of painting in Italy, the compositions consisted entirely of subjects taken from Sacred Writ—subjects that imposed a purity of thought and a primitive simplicity upon the artists; these qualities were, however, in a great measure lost in passing through the Venetian and German schools, where either the love for pictorial effect or the introduction of catholic ceremonies took precedence of every other arrangement. The prolific genius of Rubens spread this infectious mode of treatment through Flanders and Holland, till at length, in the hands of the painters of smoking and drinking scenes, historical subjects, even of a sacred character, became quite ridiculous. Yet, with all these examples of bad and vulgar taste around him, we find many compositions of Rembrandt less degraded by mean representation than many of the best of the works of the Venetian and Flemish painters. Take, for example, his design of Christ and his Disciples at Emmaus, the principal figure in which is certainly more refined than the Christ either in the pictures of Titian or Rubens of the same subject; in fact, the idea of it is taken from the Last Supper, by Raffaelle, (the Mark Antonio print of which he must have had.) Raffaelle is indebted for the figure to Leonardo da Vinci; and if we were to trace back, I have no doubt we should find that the Milanese borrowed it from an earlier master; indeed, we perceive in the progress of painting much of the primitive simplicity and uniformity preserved in the best works of the Italian school. It was only when composition passed through the prolific minds of such artists as Paul Veronese, Tintoret, and Rubens, that it was made subservient to the bustle, animation, and picturesque effect of their works. When we find, therefore, any remains revived in the pictures of Rembrandt, who was surrounded by compositions of a vulgar and low cast, we can only ascribe it to the taste and genius of this great painter. In the design just mentioned, the idea of the Disciples, as if struck with astonishment and awe at the bursting forth of the divinity of Christ, is admirably conceived. As the heads are taken from the people of his country, they of necessity partake of the character of the people. This cannot be justified, though it is excusable. Reynolds, on this head, speaking of the ennobling of the characters in an historical picture, says, "How much the great style exacts from its professors to conceive and represent their subjects in a poetical manner, not confined to mere matter of fact, may be seen in the Cartoons of Raffaelle. In all the pictures in which the painter has represented the apostles, he has drawn them with great nobleness; he has given them as much dignity as the human figure is capable of receiving. Yet we are expressly told in Scripture they had no such respectable appearance; and of St. Paul in particular we are told by himself that his bodily presence was mean. In conformity to custom, I call this part of the art History Painting: it ought to be called Poetical, as in reality it is." He further adds, "The painter has no other means of giving an idea of the mind but by that external appearance which grandeur of thought does generally, though not always, impress on the countenance, and by that correspondence of figure to sentiment and situation which all men wish, but cannot command." As I cannot defend the mean appearance of the disciples, neither shall I exculpate our great artist from blame in introducing a dog into so grand a subject; we can only excuse him on the plea of following the practice of his predecessors. Titian, in his celebrated picture, has not only introduced a dog, but a cat also, which is quarrelling with the former for a bone under the table. To this love for the introduction of animals into their compositions, for the sake of picturesque variety, many of the greatest painters must plead guilty; and though the incongruity has been pointed out over and over again by the writers on art, it is still clung to as means of contrast with the human figure. In one of the sketches by the late Sir D. Wilkie for his picture of "Finding the Body of Tippoo Saib," he had introduced two dogs, and only obliterated them when informed that dogs were considered unclean by the people of the east, and therefore it was an impossibility for them to be in the palace of Seringapatam. While I am upon this subject, it may not be amiss to refer to one of the authorities who censures this practice. Fresnoy says, in his poem on the "Art of Painting,"

"Nec quod inane, nihil facit ad rem sive videtur Improprium minimeque urgens potiora tenebit Ornamenta operis."

"Nor paint conspicuous on the foremost plain, Whate'er is false, impertinent, or vain."


On this rule, Reynolds remarks—"This precept, so obvious to common sense, appears superfluous till we recollect that some of the greatest painters have been guilty of a breach of it; for—not to mention Paul Veronese or Rubens, whose principles as ornamental painters would allow great latitude in introducing animals, or whatever they might think necessary to contrast or make the composition more picturesque—we can no longer wonder why the poet has thought it worth setting a guard against this impropriety, when we find that such men as Raffaelle and the Caracci, in their greatest and most serious works, have introduced on the foreground mean and frivolous circumstances. Such improprieties, to do justice to the more modern painters, are seldom found in their works. The only excuse that can be made for those great artists, is their living in an age when it was the custom to mix the ludicrous with the serious, and when poetry as well as painting gave in to this fashion."

Many of the compositions of Rembrandt indicate not only a refined taste, but the greatest sensibility and feeling. For example, the small etchings of the "Burial of Christ," and the "Return from Jerusalem;" these, from their slightness, may lay me under the same category as the old Greek, who, having a house to sell, carried in his pocket one of the bricks as a sample; yet, being his own indications, I have given them. It is worth while to compare the "Entombment" with the same subject by Raffaelle, in the Crozat Collection. The whole arrangement is treated in the finest taste of the Italian school. The other design has been always a favourite with the admirers of Rembrandt. The feeling character of the youthful Saviour is admirably portrayed. Holding his mother's hand, he is cheering her on her tiring journey, looking in her face with an expression of affection and solace; while she is represented with downcast eyes, fatigued and "pondering in her mind" the import of the words he had addressed to her, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" And even here we can almost excuse the introduction of the little dog, who, running before the group, is looking back, giving a bark of joy at their having found the object of their solicitude. The background is conceived in the finest spirit of Titian.

These are the touches of nature that, like the expressions of our own immortal Shakspere, however slight, and though dressed in modern garb or familiar language, reach the innermost sensibilities of the human heart.

The character and costume of the people, as well as the scenery of those subjects taken from Holy Writ, have been a matter of investigation both by artists and writers upon art; for although the events related in the New Testament are not of so ancient a date as those of the heathen writers, yet the mind seems to require that the style should be neither classic nor too strictly local. Hence, though the costume represented in the Venetian pictures is no doubt nearer the truth than that made use of by Raffaelle and other Italians, it fails to carry us back to ancient and primitive simplicity. The early pictures delineating Christian subjects are modelled upon Greek forms and dresses, and having been made the foundation of those works afterwards produced by the great restorers of painting, have gained a hold upon our ideas, which, if not impossible, is yet difficult to throw off. As the late Sir David Wilkie travelled into the East with the express purpose of painting the subjects mentioned in Scripture in more strict accordance with the people and their habits, it may be of advantage to give the student his opinions. In his Journal, he says—"After seeing with great attention the city of Jerusalem and the district of Syria that extends from Jaffa to the river Jordan, I am satisfied it still presents a new field for the genius of Scripture painting to work upon. It is true the great Italian painters have created an art, the highest of its kind, peculiar to the subjects of sacred history; and in some of their examples, whether from facility of inquiry or from imagination, have come very near all the view of Syria could supply. The Venetians, (perhaps from their intercourse with Cyprus and the Levant,) Titian, Paul Veronese, and Sebastian del Piombo, have in their pictures given the nearest appearance to a Syrian people. Michael Angelo, too, from his generalizing style, has brought some of his prophets and sybils to resemble the old Jews about the streets of the Holy City; but in general, though the aspect of Nature will sometimes recall the finest ideas of Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaelle, yet these masters still want much that could be supplied here, and have a great deal of matters quite contrary to what the country could furnish. These contrarieties, indeed, are so great, that in discussions with the learned here, I find a disposition to that kind of change that would soon set aside the whole system of Italian and European art; but as these changes go too much upon the supposition that the manners of Scripture are precisely represented by the present race in Syria, it is too sweeping to be borne out by what we actually know. At the same time, there are so many objects in this country so perfectly described, so incapable of change, and that give such an air of truth to the local allusions of Sacred Writ, that one can scarcely imagine that these, had they been known to the painters of Italy, would not have added to the impressive power of their works. Without trying to take from the grand impression produced by the reading of the Sacred Writings, it may be said that from its nature many things must be confined to narrative, to description, to precept—and these are no doubt so strong as to supply to a pious mind everything that can be desired; but if these are to be represented, as certainly they have been, by those of an art who have not seen Syria, it is clear some other country, Italy, Spain, or Flanders, will be drawn upon to supply this, and the reader of Scripture and the admirer of art will be alike deluded by the representation of a strange country in the place of that so selected and so identified as the Land of Promise—so well known and so graphically described from the first to the last of the inspired writers."

These remarks are certainly applicable, but only in a degree. What is quoted from Reynolds, in a former part, shows that a licence is indispensable; and yet, without destroying the apparent truth of the subject, many things are now established that, without their being facts, have taken such hold of our ideas that they cannot with safety be departed from. I may instance the countenances of our Saviour and the Virgin, as given by Raffaelle and Coreggio—we recognise them as if they had been painted from the persons themselves; I may also add the heads of the Apostles. With regard to the scenery, many circumstances may certainly be taken advantage of, always guarding against a topographical appearance that, by its locality, may prevent the work leading the spectator back into distant periods of time. Before quitting this part of the subject, which refers to Rembrandt's powers of composition, I may notice one or two of his designs, which stamp him as a great genius in this department of the art—viz., his "Christ Healing the Sick," "Haman and Mordecai," the "Ecce Homo," "Christ Preaching," and the "Death of the Virgin."


From the position we are now placed in, surrounded by the accumulated talent of many centuries, it is easy to take a retrospective view of the progress of art; and it is only by so doing that we can arrive at a just estimate of the great artists who advanced it beyond the age in which they lived, and this seems mainly to have been achieved by a close observance of nature. As in philosophy the genius of Bacon, by investigating the phenomena of visible objects, put to flight and dissipated the learned dogmas of the school of Aristotle, so in sculpture the purity and simplicity of the forms of Phidias established a line of demarcation between his own works and those of the formal, symmetrical, and dry sculpture of his predecessors. Sculpture, till then, lay fettered and bound up in the severity of Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Likewise we perceive the genius of Michael Angelo and Raffaelle setting aside the stiffness and profile character existing in the works of Signorelli and Masaccio. In Venice, Titian emancipated the arts from the grasp of Giovanni Bellini. In Germany, Rubens must be considered the great translator of art out of a dead language into a living one, to use a metaphor, and into one that, like music, is universal. Previous to Rembrandt, the pupils of Rubens had thrown off every affinity not only to Gothic stiffness, but even to that degree of regularity of composition which all classes of historical subjects require. Independent of Rubens and his pupils, we find Rembrandt was aware of the great advances made in natural representations of objects by Adrian Brauwer, (several of whose works, by the catalogue given of his effects, were in his possession;) therefore, as far as transparency and richness, with a truthfulness of tint, are concerned, Brauwer had set an example. But in the works of Rembrandt we perceive a peculiarity entirely his own—that of enveloping parts in beautiful obscurity, and the light again emerging from the shadow, like the softness of moonlight partially seen through demi-transparent clouds, and leaving large masses of undefined objects in darkness. This principle he applied to compositions of even a complicated character, and their bustle and noise were swallowed up in the stillness of shadow. If breadth constitutes grandeur, Rembrandt's works are exemplifications of mysterious sublimity to the fullest extent. This "darkness visible," as Milton expresses it, belongs to the great founder of the school of Holland, and to him alone. Flinck, Dietricy, De Guelder, and others his pupils, give no idea of it; their works are warm, but they are without redeeming cool tints; they are yellow without pearly tones; and in place of leading the eye of the spectator into the depths of aerial perspective, the whole work appears on the surface of the panel. There are none of those shadows "hanging in mid air," which constitute so captivating a charm in the great magician of chiaro-scuro; not only are objects of solidity surrounded by softening obscurity, but the contiguous atmosphere gives indications of the influence of the light and shade. To these principles the art is indebted for breadth and fulness of effect, which constitute the distinct characteristics between the early state and its maturity—and to Rembrandt we owe the perfection of this fascinating quality.

We must, nevertheless, always look back with wonder at what was achieved by Coreggio. Even when painting flourished under the guidance of Leonardo da Vinci and Giorgione, Reynolds, speaking of this quality in contradistinction to that of relief, says, "This favourite quality of giving objects relief, and which De Piles and all the critics have considered as a requisite of the greatest importance, was not one of those objects which much engaged the attention of Titian. Painters of an inferior rank have far exceeded him in producing this effect. This was a great object of attention when art was in its infant state, as it is at present with the vulgar and ignorant, who feel the highest satisfaction in seeing a figure which, as they say, looks as if they could walk round it. But however low I might rate this pleasure of deception, I should not oppose it, did it not oppose itself to a quality of a much higher kind, by counteracting entirely that fulness of manner which is so difficult to express in words, but which is found in perfection in the best works of Coreggio, and, we may add, of Rembrandt. This effect is produced by melting and losing the shadows in a ground still darker than those shadows; whereas that relief is produced by opposing and separating the ground from the figure, either by light, or shadow, or colour. This conduct of inlaying, as it may be called, figures on their ground, in order to produce relief, was the practice of the old painters, such as Andrea Mantegna, Pietro Perugino, and Albert Durer, and to these we may add the first manner of Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, and even Coreggio; but these three were among the first who began to correct themselves in dryness of style, by no longer considering relief as a principal object. As those two qualities, relief and fulness of effect, can hardly exist together, it is not very difficult to determine to which we ought to give the preference. An artist is obliged for ever to hold a balance in his hand, by which he must determine the value of different qualities, that when some fault must be committed, he may choose the least. Those painters who have best understood the art of producing a good effect have adopted one principle that seems perfectly conformable to reason—that a part may be sacrificed for the good of the whole. Thus, whether the masses consist of light or shadow, it is necessary that they should be compact and of a pleasing shape; to this end, some parts may be made darker and some lighter, and reflections stronger than nature would warrant. Paul Veronese took great liberties of this kind. It is said, that being once asked why certain figures were painted in shade, as no cause was seen in the picture itself, he turned off the inquiry by answering, 'Una nuevola che passa,'—a cloud is passing, which has overshadowed them."

Before entering more minutely into an investigation of the principles of Rembrandt with regard to chiaro-scuro, I must again revert to those of Coreggio. Opie, speaking of the method of this great artist, says, "To describe his practice will be in a great degree to repeat my observations on chiaro-scuro in its enlarged sense. By classing his colours, and judiciously dividing them into few and large masses of bright and obscure, gently rounding off his light, and passing, by almost imperceptible degrees, through pellucid demi-tints and warm reflections into broad, deep, and transparent shade, he artfully connected the finest extremes of light and shadow, harmonized the most intense opposition of colours, and combined the greatest possible effect with the sweetest and softest repose imaginable." Further on, he remarks—"The turn of his thoughts, also, in regard to particular subjects, was often in the highest degree poetical and uncommon, of which it will be sufficient to give as an instance his celebrated Notte, or painting of the 'Nativity of Christ,' in which his making all the light of the picture emanate from the child, striking upwards on the beautiful face of the mother, and in all directions on the surrounding objects, may challenge comparison with any invention in the whole circle of art, both for the splendour and sweetness of effect, which nothing can exceed, and for its happy appropriation to the person of Him who was born to dispel the clouds of ignorance, and diffuse the light of truth over a darkened world!" Now, this work Rembrandt must have seen, or at least a copy from it, as his treatment of the same subject, in the National Gallery, indicates; but the poetry is lost, for it would be impossible to imitate it without a direct plagiarism. It may, however, have given a turn to his thoughts, in representing many of his subjects under the influence of night in place of day, such as his "Taking down from the Cross," by torch light; his "Flight into Egypt," with the lantern; the "Burial of Christ," &c. While other men were painting daylight, he turned the day into night, which is one of the paths that sublimity travels through. The general idea most people have of Rembrandt is, that he is one of the dark masters: but his shadows are not black, they are filled with transparency. The backgrounds to his portraits are less dark than many of either Titian or Tintoret. His landscapes are not black, they are the soft emanations of twilight; and when he leads you through the shadows of night, you see the path, even in the deepest obscurity. As colour forms a constituent part of chiaro-scuro, I must, in this division, confine myself more particularly to black and white, both in giving examples from his etchings, and explaining the various changes he made upon them in order to heighten the effect. The etching I have here given is the "Nativity," in the darkest state; in the British Museum there are no less than seven varieties, and the first state is the lightest. But in order to render his mode of proceeding more intelligible, I shall explain the progress of his working. His first etchings are often bit in with the aquafortis, when the shadows have but few ways crossed with the etching point: these are often strongly bit in, that, when covered over with finer lines, the first may shine through, and give transparency. In the next process he seems to have taken off the etching ground, and laid over the plate a transparent ground, (that is to say, one not darkened by the smoke of a candle;) upon this he worked up his effect by a multiplicity of fresh lines, often altering his forms, and adding new objects, as the idea seemed to rise in his mind. After which, when the plate was again subjected to the operation of the acid, the etching ground was removed, and the whole worked up with the greatest delicacy and softness by means of the dry needle, to the scratches of which the aquafortis is never applied. This process it is that gives what is termed the burr, and renders the etchings of Rembrandt different from all others. Now this burr is produced, not by the ink going into the lines, but by the printer being obstructed in wiping it off by the raised edge which the dry point has forced up; for when these lines run through deep shadows, we often see that they print white, from the ink being wiped off the top of the ridge.

This is the foundation of what is called mezzotint engraving, which I shall notice in another place. By keeping these remarks in mind, we shall easily perceive how it is that so many variations occur in impressions from his plates, depending entirely on the direction in which the printer wiped off the ink—whether across the ridges, or in the same direction as the lines. Varieties have also arisen from these ridges wearing away by the friction of the hand; and as Rembrandt's copper plates, judging from those I have examined, were soft, they soon wore down. We also find this dark effect given in many of his varieties by merely leaving the surface partially wiped, and touching out the high lights with his finger, or a piece of leather. These impressions must have been taken by himself, or, at least, under his superintendence. Several of his plates are worked on with the graver, such as his "Taking down from the Cross;" but that evidently is by the hand of an engraver. We see the same in several of the etchings of Vandyke, but their value decreases as the finishing extends.

While we are upon the subject of his etchings, it will, perhaps, be of use to confine the conduct of his chiaro-scuro to his etchings alone, as his treatment is very different to what he adopted when he had colour to deal with; and in this respect he must have been influenced by the example of Rubens and Vandyke, proofs of all the engravings after whose pictures we perceive he had in his possession. In order that we may more clearly understand the reason of many of his etchings remaining unfinished in parts, while other portions are worked up with the greatest care, I shall give an extract from the Journal of Sir Joshua Reynolds, when in Flanders. In describing a picture in the Church of the Recollets, at Antwerp, he says:—"Over the altar of the choir is the famous 'Crucifixion of Christ between two Thieves,' by Rubens. To give animation to this subject, he has chosen the point of time when an executioner is piercing the side of Christ, whilst another, with a bar of iron, is breaking the limbs of one of the malefactors, who, in his convulsive agony, which his body admirably expresses, has torn one of his feet from the tree to which it was nailed. The expression in the action of this figure is wonderful. The attitude of the other is more composed, and he looks at the dying Christ with a countenance perfectly expressive of his penitence. This figure is likewise admirable. The Virgin, St. John, and Mary the wife of Cleophas, are standing by, with great expression of grief and resignation; whilst the Magdalen, who is at the feet of Christ, and may be supposed to have been kissing his feet, looks at the horseman with the spear with a countenance of great horror. As the expression carries with it no grimace or contortion of the features, the beauty is not destroyed. This is by far the most beautiful profile I ever saw of Rubens, or, I think, of any other painter. The excellence of its colouring is beyond expression. To say that she may be supposed to have been kissing Christ's feet, may be thought too refined a criticism; but Rubens certainly intended to convey that idea, as appears by the disposition of her hands, for they are stretched out towards the executioner, and one of them is before and one behind the cross, which gives an idea of their having been round it. And it must be remembered that she is generally represented as kissing the feet of Christ: it is her place and employment in those subjects. The good Centurion ought not to be forgotten—who is leaning forward, one hand on the other, resting on the mane of his horse, while he looks at Christ with great earnestness. The genius of Rubens nowhere appears to more advantage than here; it is the most carefully finished picture of all his works. The whole is conducted with the most consummate art. The composition is bold and uncommon, with circumstances which no other painter had ever before thought of—such as the breaking of the limbs, and the expression of the Magdalen; to which we may add the disposition of the three crosses, which are placed perspectively, in a very picturesque manner—the nearest bears the thief whose limbs they are breaking; the next the Christ, whose figure is straighter than ordinary, as a contrast to the others; and the furthermost the penitent thief. This produces a most interesting effect, but it is what few but such a daring genius as Rubens would have attempted. It is here, and in such compositions, that we properly see Rubens, and not in little pictures of Madonnas and Bambinos. It appears that Rubens made some changes in this picture after Bolswert had engraved it. The horseman who is in the act of piercing the side of Christ holds the spear, according to the print, in a very tame manner, with the back of the hand over the spear, grasping it with only three fingers, the forefinger lying straight over the spear; whereas, in the picture, the back of the hand comes under the spear, and he grasps it with his whole force. The other defect, which is remedied in the picture, is the action of the executioner who breaks the legs of the criminal: in the print, both of his hands are over the bar of iron, which makes a false action; in the picture, the whole disposition is altered to the natural manner in which every person holds a weapon which requires both hands—the right is placed over, and the left under it. This print was undoubtedly done under the inspection of Rubens himself. It may be worth observing, that the keeping of the masses of light in the print differs much from the picture; this change is not from inattention, but design; a different conduct is required in a composition with colours from what ought to be followed when it is in black and white only. We have here the authority of this great master of light and shadow, that a print requires more and larger masses of light than a picture. In this picture, the principal and the strongest light is the body of Christ, which is of a remarkably clear and bright colour. This is strongly opposed by the very brown complexion of the thieves, (perhaps the opposition here is too violent,) who make no great effect as to light; the Virgin's outer drapery is dark blue, and the inner a dark purple, and St. John is in dark strong red. No part of these two figures is light in the picture but the head and hands of the Virgin, but in the print, they make the principal mass of light of the whole composition. The engraver has certainly produced a fine effect, and I suspect it is as certain that if this change had not been made, it would have appeared a black and heavy print. When Rubens thought it necessary, in the print, to make a mass of light of the drapery of the Virgin and St. John, it was likewise necessary that it should be of a beautiful shape, and be kept compact; it therefore became necessary to darken the whole figure of the Magdalen, which in the picture is at least as light as the body of Christ; her head, linen, arms, hair, and the feet of Christ, make a mass as light as the body of Christ. It appears, therefore, that some parts are to be darkened, as well as other parts made lighter. This, consequently, is a science which an engraver ought well to understand before he can presume to venture on any alteration from the picture he means to represent. The same thing may be remarked in many other prints by those engravers who were employed by Rubens and Vandyke; they always gave more light than they were warranted by the picture—a circumstance which may merit the attention of engravers."

As most of these engravings were made from studies in black and white, perhaps reduced from the picture by the engraver, but certainly touched on afterwards by the painters themselves, they form a school for the study of light and shade when deprived of colour. In the etchings of Rembrandt, therefore, we ought to bear in mind that splendour of effect was what he aimed at, and the means adopted by Rubens and Vandyke were carried still further by the fearless master of chiaro-scuro. Now that the eye has been accustomed to engravings where the local colour is rendered, when we look over a folio of the works of Bolswert, Soutman, Pontius, and others of the Flemish engravers, they appear, notwithstanding their overpowering depth and brilliancy, unfinished, from the lights of the several coloured draperies and the flesh tones being left white. They also occasionally look spotty in effect, from the extreme strength of the shadows and black draperies. In Rembrandt's works these defects are avoided, by finishing his darks with the greatest care and softness, while the figures in the light masses are often left in mere outline: the lights are also reduced in size as they enter the shade; while the darks in the light portions of his prints are circumscribed to a mere point, for the purpose of giving a balance and solidity. The shadows of the several objects likewise assume a greater delicacy as they enter into the masses of light. In these respects, the Hundred Guilder print is a striking example.

As we are now considering light and shade when unaccompanied by colour, I may notice that those portions where the dark and light masses come in contact are the places where both the rounding of the objects by making out the forms, and also the patching down the half-tint with visible lines, may be followed out with the greatest success, as it prevents the work being heavy in effect, and also assists the passage of the light into the shadow. The quality of the lights and darks is flatness. The Flemish engravers seem to have been very particular in the method of producing their shadow, both with regard to the direction of the lines, and also their repetition; their object seems to have been intenseness of dark with transparency of execution. In a conversation with Sir Thomas Lawrence upon the subject of shadows, his ideas were that they ought to be as still as possible, and that all the little sparkling produced by the crossing of the lines ought to be extinguished, or softened down. In painting, his notions were that they ought to be kept cool. Without presuming to differ with so excellent an artist, it is but proper to mention that all the best engravers, from the time of Bolswert to our own, are of a contrary opinion; and our best colourists, from Coreggio to Rembrandt, and from Rembrandt to Wilkie, were diametrically opposite in their practice. As far as engraving is concerned, it is but fair to notice that Lawrence had Rembrandt on his side, of whose works he was a great admirer.

I may appear to have dwelt too long upon this subject of engraving, but as the etchings of Rembrandt form so large a portion of his popularity, we cannot enter too minutely into the various sources of their excellence. I shall now proceed to describe the etching of "Doctor Faustus," a copy of which I have given. Some think that it represents Fust, the partner of Guttenburg, who, by his publication of Bibles in Paris, was looked upon by the people as a dealer in the black art. The papers hung up by the side of the window look like the sheets of his letter-press, and the diagram that attracts his attention, and rouses him from his desk, indicates by words and symbols a connexion with Holy Writ. But the general opinion is, that it is Dr. John Faustus, a German physician, in his study. This Dr. Faustus was supposed to have dealings with familiar spirits, one of which has raised this cabalistic vision, that enters the window with overwhelming splendour, like the bursting of a shell, communicating its radiance to the head and breast of the figure, and, descending by his variegated garment, is extended in a spread of light over the whole lower part of the composition. The light of the window being surrounded by a mass of dark, receives intense importance, and is carried as far as the art can go. It is also, I may observe, rendered less harsh and cutting by its shining through the papers at the side, and by the interruption of the rays of the diagram. The light passing behind the figure, and partially thrown upon a skull, gives an awe-striking appearance to the whole; while the flat breadth of light below is left intentionally with the objects in mere outline. This etching seems never to have been touched on from the first impressions to the last—the first state is dark with excess of burr; the last is merely the burr worn off.

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