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Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus

August 3–October 30, 2011

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) is universally acclaimed as the greatest master painter of the Dutch Golden Age, the 17th-century efflorescence of art in the Netherlands. Thanks to an inventory of his home and studio conducted in July 1656, we know that Rembrandt kept in his bedroom two of his own paintings called Head of Christ. A third painting—identified as a "Head of Christ, from life"—was found in a bin in Rembrandt's studio, awaiting use as a model for a New Testament composition. Today, seven paintings survive (from what was likely eight originally) that fit this description, all painted by Rembrandt and his pupils between 1643 and 1655. Bust-length portraits, they show the same young man familiar from traditional artistic conceptions of Christ, yet each figure also bears a slightly different expression. In posing an ethnographically correct model and using a human face to depict Jesus, Rembrandt overturned the entire history of Christian art, which had previously relied on rigidly copied prototypes for Christ. This exhibition, the first Rembrandt exhibition in Philadelphia since 1932 and the first ever in the city to include paintings by the Dutch master, reunites the seven paintings of this exceedingly rare and singular series for the first time since 1656. Of these portraits, three are being seen in the United States for the first time. Complemented by more than fifty related paintings, prints, and drawings, Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus allows visitors to consider the religious, historic, and artistic significance of these works. Objects of private reflection for Rembrandt, the paintings in this exhibition bear witness to Rembrandt's iconoclasm and his search for a meditative ideal. In addition to major paintings, many of the selected drawings in this exhibition have been rarely exhibited or lent owing to their light-sensitivity and fragility. Indeed, never before have so many of Rembrandt's finest paintings, etchings, and drawings that depict Jesus Christ and events of his life been assembled for an exhibition.

Rembrandt and Printmaking

Christ 'from life'

A Life of Struggle

Rembrandt's life story is one of genius and struggle. Born the ninth of ten or more children in 1606, his personal life was as marred by tragedy as his artistic life was of triumph. He suffered significant losses, including his beloved wife Saskia Van Uylenburgh, who died, probably of tuberculosis, in 1642. A drawn out affair with Geertje Dircx resulted in a legal battle in 1649-1650 followed by her ultimate committal to an asylum. Of the artist's five children, three did not survive childhood and his remaining son Titus pre-deceased him by one year. Rembrandt's 1656 bankruptcy also separated the artist from his own home and his personal art collection.


Musée du Louvre, Paris • April to July 2011Philadelphia Museum of Art • August to October 2011The Detroit Institute of Arts • November 2011 to February 2012

Main Building


This exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.


Lloyd DeWitt • Associate Curator of European Painting before 1900

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