@theDenverArtMuseum| Rembrandt: Painter as Printmaker

Jan Cornelis Sylvius, Preacher (1646) by Rembrandt van Rijn | PC: mfa.org

Jan Cornelis Sylvius, Preacher (1646) by Rembrandt van Rijn | PC: mfa.org

Memento Artem


A great collection of art works recently visited the Denver Art Museum. Rembrandt van Rijn, as most would recognize, was the great dutch painter known well for his iconic self-portraits and his famous painting the “The Night Watch.” However, one of his great passions wasn’t painting, but printmaking. “Rembrandt: Painter as Printmaker” places an emphasis on the master’s great love with a range of prints containing subject matter fluctuating from landscapes to religious scenes.

Rembrandt showed astounding growth as a printmaker. He began with simple, experimental subject manner and over time began to develop more elaborate skills and create ornate prints. This progress followed his entire artistic career spanning from 1625 to 1665. Rembrandt employed the use of intaglio printmaking. He’d carve into a copper plate coated in a protective wax, exposing the metal. Next he’d place the plate into a bath of acid. This would eat into the metal causing the carved areas to deepen and more easily accept ink.

Then, the plate was ready for printing. It would be covered in ink, placed onto a piece of paper and run through a special printing press. During this process, changes would be repeatedly made to the plate. A final print, more often than not, would go through a variation of changes before the final composition.

What’s impressive with this process is the artist would have to think of a design in the reverse of its final outcome. This was especially skillful when the artist wanted words to appear in an ornate script-like manner. One of Rembrandt’s pieces that shows the viewer his sheer talent is “Jan Cornelis Sylvius, Preacher (1646).” This composition isn’t only heavily text-based, but has incredible detail in the portrait of the preacher as well. It’s truly mind-blowing to think this entire composition was carved into a plate in reverse before creating a beautifully intricate print.

Another spectacular aspect to Rembrandt’s prints is his use of painting as a way to “sketch out” a composition for a print. It’s mind-numbing to even consider that an artist would spend a ton of time creating a beautiful painting as a “trial-run” for a print he was planning to do later. However, this reaffirms the artists true passion for printmaking as a medium.

Rembrandt’s dedication to printmaking is evident because of the time and practice he put in. It’s absurd to think he’s only really known for his paintings and not his prints. Hopefully with exhibits like “Rembrandt: Painter as Printmaker” his prints will become a bigger part of his legacy.

Cameron Cizek is a senior studying computing.