Digital gallery

The Family Portrait, ca. 1665

Previous / next:

The Family Portrait (ca. 1665) usually hangs in Braunschweig, in Germany. It has not been moved from there since 1956. Especially for this exhibition, it will be hung in the Rijksmuseum.

In the final stage of his career, it seemed Rembrandt was no longer concerned with fashion and conventions. Whereas his former pupils had long ago adopted a smoother style of painting, Rembrandt went one step further; moulding, scratching and plastering to his heart’s content. He made remarkably tender paintings of people who clearly loved one another. Never before in art history had intimacy and love gone together so well with rough daubs and plastered streaks of paint. Not only does it still appeal to us today, but some of his contemporaries also loved this daring late work by the old master

Family in exotic attire

The scene of a family depicted in historical or exotic attire is not what distinguished this work. Many painters were doing that at the time. But this late painting by Rembrandt surpasses all other family portraits in the warmth you sense between the subjects of the portrait. The baby touching its mother’s bosom is endearing. In order to emphasise this tender gesture, Rembrandt had the idea of letting the blouse fall open, so that the boy’s hand comes into contact with his mother’s skin.

Klik om in te zoomen
A unique gathering

The best works from all over the world – 37 paintings – have been selected for this exhibition. In Amsterdam, there will even be four more works than in the recent exhibition at the National Gallery in London. Three of these works come from German collections, like this Family Portrait that has not left Braunschweig in the past sixty years. It dates from the same period as the famous Jewish Bride (ca. 1665), and displays some remarkable similarities. The woman in the Family Portrait (ca. 1665) is depicted in the same loving way as the one in The Jewish Bride, and both paintings use the same coarse technique. The two works are therefore hung side by side in the exhibition at the Rijksmuseum.

Bricklayer’s trowel 

At the end of his career Rembrandt worked in thick paint with coarse brushstrokes. From the beginning of the 1650’s, when Rembrandt was in his mid-forties, it even became his trademark. About fifty years after Rembrandt’s death, an author who had charted the lives of Dutch painters of the seventeenth century wrote rather denigratingly about his late style of painting. If you look at it from close up, he wrote, it looks as if Rembrandt has applied the paint with a bricklayer’s trowel. And that was indeed sometimes the case.

Early on in his career, Rembrandt was experimenting with all sorts of techniques, like moulding with paint. In his later works, it became his trademark

Learned from Lievens

When Rembrandt was younger, he was already experimenting with new techniques, scratching his paintings and moulding with paint. By doing so, he achieved the three-dimensional effect he sought, particularly in his paintings of clothing and robes. Rembrandt probably learned this technique from Jan Lievens, a fellow painter at the workshop in Leiden. 

  • Endearment

    Rembrandt combined endearment and thick daubs of paint in a wonderful way.

  • The sleeve

    From a distance, it is a carefully painted representation of fabric, but from close up it looks like mud

  • Technique

    Rembrandt once learned how to mould with paint from his former workshop colleague Jan Lievens.

Emphatic use of the palette knife

In painting the Family Portrait (ca. 1665), too, Rembrandt made great use of the palette knife. This is a technique invented by Rembrandt himself. Usually, palette knives were used in the workshop for mixing paint, and not for painting with, of course. But Rembrandt did just that: in the Family Portrait, you can see that he used the palette knife.

During the exhibition, The Jewish Bride and the Family Portrait hang side by side. Both paintings use the same coarse technique.
Still in demand

The Family Portrait is a revolutionary painting, created at a time when a smoother style had come into fashion. Nearly all Rembrandt’s pupils had switched long ago to a more Flemish, elegant and smooth way of painting. Not Rembrandt, however. In his late period, he even went a step further. And his individual style brought him success, too. In his latter years, Rembrandt had a select group of admirers, comprising rich surgeons, syndics and merchants. It is thanks to these wealthy customers that revolutionary works like The Jewish Bride (ca. 1665) could be painted.

Over het schilderij

  • Family Portrait, ca. 1665
  • Oil on canvas, 126 x 167 cm
  • Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Kunstmuseum des Landes Niedersachsen, Braunschweig
Previous / next: