July 07, 2011
November 20, 2011
The Academy highlights its collection of works on paper with a selection of etchings by the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669). As successful in his lifetime as he is renowned today, Rembrandt enjoyed a long and fruitful career that spanned the better part of the 17th century and unfolded over a period of tremendous prosperity in the Dutch Republic. International commerce—specifically, the import of spices and other exotic goods from Asia—drove the economy of this loose confederation of provinces, and an affluent bourgeoisie flourished, with liquid assets to spare for the purchase of artwork. Pragmatic, sensible, and seeking to decorate their homes, this new middle class supplanted the aristocracy and the clergy as the principle patrons of art, and its preference for intricately rendered genre scenes and landscapes dominated the market.
Educated in Leyden and Amsterdam, Rembrandt flourished within this Dutch School, and he adeptly mastered its materialism. But he also fell under the spell of Caravaggio, and, inspired by the Italian artist’s Baroque bravado and dramatic use of light, he transcended the minutiae of daily life to develop the understated intensity and penetrating humanism that define his singular style.
Rembrandt counted among his patrons a number of wealthy connoisseurs who favored the graphic arts, and his oeuvre includes close to 300 prints. He was a pioneer of etching at a time when the majority of artists practiced engraving, and his innovations in the medium are without precedent. His approach to printmaking was that of a draftsman, for he manipulated his copperplates with fluid lines, intricate cross-hatchings, and the strategic application of acid, achieving the subtle tonalities and extraordinary light that amplify the atmosphere and narrative of his subjects. His technical skill influenced generations of artists, as did the immediacy of his compositions: whether portrait, genre scene, landscape, or Biblical episode, they unfold thematically on a human scale that belies the propriety of convention and heralds the individualism of the modern age. –Theresa Papanikolas, Curator of European and American Art