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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.


  • Musée du Louvre, Paris: April to July 2011
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art: August to October 2011
  • The 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.


In Philadelphia, the exhibition is made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support is provided by the Connelly Foundation, by Carol Elizabeth Ware and the Marian S. Ware 2006 Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, and by generous individuals. Funding for conservation was provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.


Lloyd DeWitt, Associate Curator of European Painting before 1900

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