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THIS is one of the most extraordinary painters of the Flemish school. He was born on the 15th of June, 1606, between the villages of Leyerdorp and Koukerch, near the city of Leyden. His father, Herman Gerretsz van Ryn, was a miller, and rented a mill on the border of the Rhyne, by which he acquired the surname of Van Ryn, though his family name was Gerretsz. The miller had the sagacity to perceive in his son a more than ordinary genius, and determined that he should be a scholar, rather than follow his own profession.
But, notwithstanding this apparent vivacity, Rembrandt could scarcely be taught to read. He was more taken up with the study of design, than of the sciences, which induced his father, who attentively watched all his motions, to place him under Van Zwanenburg, a painter of Amsterdam. He soon discovered an inventive genius, and a facility of execution, which astonished his master. At the end of three years he had mastered every secret of his art, and made those discoveries which procured him the character of originality that always distinguished him. Lastman, Pinas, and Schoolin, were, afterwards, successively his masters: he then returned to his father's, and, for a long time, would have no other painting room than the mill. The space he reserved to himself, he inclosed on all sides, with the exception of a single aperture, from which he received a partial light, and which directing its rays on only one part of his pictures, procured him all the magic of the chiaro-scuro. There, retired from the world, he supposed he should remain in peace
and obscurity, but some of his brother-artists, by a very uncommon proceeding, contributed to make him known, and advised him to take to Amsterdam a picture which he had finished. For this he received one hundred florins, a sum which he then thought inexhaustible, and which proved the foundation of his future opulence and success. The celebrity he acquired by some portraits, determined him, at length, to seek a wider circle, and he removed to Amsterdam in 1630. He was, in a short time, so overwhelmed by business, and the number of his pupils, that he was compelled to hire a warehouse, in which he constructed a closet for each of his pupils; by which means they were less able to disturb each other, and he himself was less liable to interruption.
When he no longer could doubt of his success, he married a young village girl, of Ramdorp, whose portrait he has often drawn. At this time he was accustomed to finish his pictures with all the accuracy and minuteness of Mieris. His St. Peter's Back, Haman and Ahasuerus, the Woman taken in Adultery, and St. John preaching in the Wilderness, are as remarkable for their admirable finishing, as for their spirit and strength of colouring; but as his fame and emoluments increased, he became negligent, and the more he gained, the more was he tormented by an insatiable desire of gain. The anecdotes told of his ingenious manœuvres to obtain money, are innumerable, and betray the most refined avarice. This unhappy vice, which seldom diminishes with age, he carried to such excess, that he would connive at his son's selling his engravings, and make it appear that they had been offered to sale without his knowledge. At other times he would send them to a public auction, and attend. himself, to increase their price by his own bidding. By a refinement in avarice, till then unknown, he was accus
tomed to take impressions from his plates before they were finished. After these had had a considerable sale, he would finish the plate, and sell it as a new engraving; and, even when it was worn out, he was known to make some fresh alterations, by which he procured a third sale for the same plate. His wife, who was as avaricious as himself, persuaded him one day to conceal himself, and to suffer a report to be spread that he was dead, in order to insure a greater price for his works: the experiment succeeded, and Rembrandt had the satisfaction of laughing at those whom he had thus deceived. Notwithstanding these unworthy tricks, many have asserted that he died poor, but the sums he acquired by the sale of his pictures were immense; and as, according to Houbraken, he was extremely economical in his expences, he must have left very considerable riches at his decease.
If this great painter had moved in a circle of greater opulence, there would have been a material difference in his works his choice of subjects would have been more elevated his style of painting more noble, and he would have dignified the natural genius with which he was gifted. In vain did his friend, the Burgomaster Six, attempt to draw him into more polished societies-Rembrandt desired to live only among people inferior to himself. If he quitted them for others of higher rank, it was only to lay these under contribution, and would abruptly leave them when he had received the sums he exacted. Thus he lived, alternately occupied by the love of his art, and the love of money, till he attained his 68th year, and expired in 1674.
Rembrandt would have been a much greater painter had he been born at Rome, or had studied there. He owed his talent entirely to nature, and was little desirous of attaining the graces of his art. If ever he approached
perfection, it was without either design or consciousness, merely by the force of his imagination, and his close adherence to natural objects. His most remarkable characteristic, is the beauty of his colouring. To this favourite point he willingly sacrificed every other consideration of judgment, taste, design, and correction: he had no other notion of antiquity, than in the casual delineation of old armour, or worn out tapestry; he neither understood history nor mythology, and never submitted to the study of perspective. Inimitable in his manner and colouring, he is perhaps the worst model that can be followed by a young artist. His portraits are admirable, but as they are in general thickly coloured, they are but seen at a small distance. From the bold style of painting which his pictures exhibit, we are led to suppose that he executed with considerable facility; but his uncertainty in the selection of attitudes and drapery, and his little acquaintance with the works of the Italian masters, often occasioned him to lose sight of the vigour and animation of his first ideas. He would frequently alter, four or five times, the head of a portrait, and the patience of those who sat to him would have been exhausted, had not the force and fidelity of his pencil, amply compensated for the suspense he occasioned.
Whatever Rembrandt designed, was without dignity, but full of expression; his pains possessed fire, but he was incapable of elevation; he was ignorant of the resources that may be drawn from poetry; allegory and costume were utterly unknown to him; his dresses were always the same, and so whimsical, that they appear to be sketched in the style of a masquerade, rather than as pictures of national customs. His historical works are by no means so numerous as his portraits, and the few we have, are as ridiculous in the eyes of the learned, as they are admirable in the estimation of painters.
His designs, except in his portraits, are scarcely more tolerable, and of these, the heads alone were well drawn. He was so conscious of his inability to sketch the hands, that he concealed them as frequently as he could. His women seldom possess the grace of their sex. Whenever he attempted a naked figure, he displayed little correctness or elegance; they are short, of a meagre, unnatural form, and their extremities either too large or two small, without the slightest attention to proportion or grace. But if he thus failed in the correctness and purity of design, Rembrandt, by the beauty of his colouring, the strength of his touch, and management of chiaro-scuro, will bear a comparison with the greatest painter that ever existed.
"Rembrandt Van Ryn," observes M. Fuseli, " was a meteor in art. Disdaining to acknowledge the usual laws of admission to the Temple of Fame, he boldly forged his own keys, entered and took possession of a most conspicuous place by his own powers. He was undoubtedly a genius of the first class, in whatever is not immediately related to form or taste. In spite of the most potentous deformity, and without considering the spell of her chiaro-scuro, such were his powers of nature, such the grandeur, pathos, or simplicity of his composition, from the most elevated or extensive arrangement, to the meanest or most homely, that the most untutored and the best cultivated age, plain common sense and the most refined sensibility, dwell on them enthralled. Shakespeare alone excepted, no one combined with so much transcendent excellence, so many, in all other men, unpardonable faults, and reconciled us to them. He possessed the full empire of light and shade, and all the tints that float between them. He tinged his pencil with equal success in the cool of dawn, in the noon-tide ray, in the vivid