Rembrandt is one of the greatest artists in history, with his name alone being synonymous with fine art itself. His portraits and genre scenes are iconic, enriched with a level of realism that gives them an exquisite ethereal quality unmatched by any other artist before or since. Yet, few realize that Rembrandt was also a master etcher, and is responsible for not only creating some of the most amazing etchings in history, but he also evolved and gave new life to the entire process of printmaking.
Rembrandt’s painting and etching careers run parallel, and in many cases, it was his etchings that propelled his tremendous popularity during what scholars call the Golden Age of Dutch Painting. Between 1626 and 1660, the artist created some 300 etchings, with only about 79 known in existence today. Since he owned and operated his own printing press, he was able to experiment with etching techniques and continuously push the envelope often treating them the same way he would his canvases. In fact, his findings are so important, that many of his techniques continue to impact printmakers to this day.
M.S. Rau Antiques acquired one such print, titled St. Jerome in a Dark Chamber, in which Rembrandt extends his mastery of chiaroscuro (the sharp contrast between light and shadow) to impart the emotional and spiritual element into this resplendent religious scene. It is believed that he experimented creating such dramatic effects by leaving deposits of ink on the etching, then wiping away excess in spots he wanted to illuminate. Every etched line is visible, yet the appearance that the forlorn saint is the focus of the sunlight is simply stunning. Rembrandt typically kept his printmaking and painting separate, seldom creating an etching of one of his completed paintings. However, this etching in the Rau fine art collection, Joseph Telling His Dreams, is one of the handful of rarities in which he created both the oil on canvas and the etching.
The art of etching allowed Rembrandt to explore techniques simply impossible to do with paint. And, because he had his own press, he had the freedom to rework and experiment with his subjects, giving his prints a level of quality that has inspired artists for over 300 years.
To see more from M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of Rembrandt etchings, click here.