Rembrandt – Biblical Interpreter
Keywords:Old Testament, Jewish Scripture, psychology, illustration, interpretation, human spirit, verbal and visual documentation, chiaroscuro
Aim. This article seeks to show that Rembrandt is the most profound, comprehensive and reliable interpreter – not an illustrator – of the Old Testament: "His ability… makes him one of the great visual interpreters of Scripture… a theologian not by academic degree but in his very nature” (Parker, 1994, p. 28). It is the purpose of this article to demonstrate the acute difference between Rembrandt’s depictions of Old Testament events and those by other artists who merely converted the overtly stated text in the Holy Bible into the visual medium.
Methods. The case for claiming that Rembrandt interpreted rather than merely depicted the Old Testament will be made by analysing five of his works and the comparison to others portraying the same events. Rembrandt’s unique methods and techniques such as adding or omitting certain figures or details, using chiaroscuro extensively and deviating from expected iconography will be demonstrated as he unearths the core significance of each event.
Results. This article manifests how Rembrandt whose production of artwork relating to Old Testament scenes was prolific did not merely depict Old Testament scenes but rather interpreted the deeper, psychological meanings of the subjects involved and events portrayed, exhibiting a profound understanding of the messages in the original Hebrew text.
Conclusion. The article unfolds Rembrandt’s significant artistic accomplishments surpassing those who preceded or succeeded him. It reveals the different means he used in each painting expressing its high point according to Old Testament interpretation rather than through the prism of the New Testament.
Bar-Efrat, S. (1987). Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh. The Burlington Magazine, 129(1014), 594-595.
Benesch, O. (1960). Rembrandt as a Draughtsman. Phaidon Press.
Brueghel, P. (1563). The Tower of Babel [Painting]. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Holland.
Buettner, J. (2011). Family benediction: the role of Asenath in Rembrandt’s Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph. Hindsight Graduate History Journal, 5, 30-41.
Doré, G. (1855). Jacob wrestling with the Angel. [Painting]. Private Collection, Engraving.
Doré, G. (c. 1880). The trial of Abraham’s faith. [Painting]. Private collection, Engraving.
Dorot, R. (2013). Symbolic allusion, temporal illusion. Sussex Academic Press.
Durham, J. I. (2004). The biblical Rembrandt: Human painter in a landscape of faith. Mercer University Press.
Gerson, H. (1968). Rembrandt’s paintings. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Kayser, R. (1933, July 2). From the Old Testament and the Jews of Holland, Rembrandt drew inspiration and materials of his art. Jewish Daily Bulletin, 10.
King James Bible. (2020). King James Bible online. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/ (Original work published in 1611).
Knotter, M. A. (1999). An ingenious device: Rembrandt’s use of Hebrew inscriptions. Studia Rosenthaliana, 33(2), 131-159.
Koloff, E. (1920). Rembrandt. E. A. Seemann.
Landsberger, F. (1946). Rembrandt, the Jews and the Bible. The Jewish Publication Society of America.
Liptzin, S. (1985). Biblical themes in world literature. Ktav Publishing House.
Melnikov, A. (1935, September 13). Rembrandt and the Divine Light. The Jewish Chronicle of London, 21.
Munz, L., & Haak, B. (1984). Rembrandt. Harry N. Abrams Inc.
Nadler, S. (2003). Rembrandt’s Jews. Chicago University Press.
Osterkamp, E. (2003). Manieristische kunst in Goethe’s sammlung [Mannerist art in Goethe’s collection]. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschite, 66(4), 502-523.
Parker, M. (1994). Rembrandt: The artist as theologian. ARTS, 7(1), 26-31.
Pasternak, L. (1923). Rembrandt: yetsirato v-erko La-Yahadut [Rembrandt: His Art and its Value for the Jews and Judaism]. Yavne Publications.
Perlove, S., & Silver, L. (2009). Rembrandt’s faith: church and temple in the Dutch Golden Age. Penn State University Press.
Poussin, N. (1648). Rebecca and Eliezer at the well. [Painting]. Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Oil on canvas.
Rosenberg, J. (1968). Rembrandt: life and work. Phaidon Press.
Sabar, S. (2008). Between Calvinists and Jews: Hebrew script in Rembrandt’s art. In M.B. Merback (Ed.), Beyond the yellow badge. Brill’s series in Jewish studies (Vol. 37, pp. 371-404). Brill.
Schama, S. (1987). The embarrassment of riches. Vintage Books.
Schama, S. (1999). Rembrandt’s eyes. Alfred A. Knopf.
Slive, S. (1959). Rembrandt: Bible paintings. Beaverbrook Newspapers.
Tumpel, C. (2006). Rembrandt images and metaphors. Haus Publishing.
Van Rijn, R. (1630). David plays before Saul [Painting]. Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany.
Van Rijn, R. (1635). Belshazaar’s feast [Painting]. National Gallery, London, England.
Van Rijn, R. (1656). David plays before Saul [Painting]. Mauritshuis in the Hague, Holland.
Van Rijn, R. (1656). Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph [Painting]. Schloss Wilhelmshohe, Kassel, Hesse, Germany.
Van Rijn, R. (1659). Jacob wrestling with the Angel [Painting]. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.
Wallace, R. (1968). The world of Rembrandt 1606-1669. Time and Life Books.
Zell, M. (2002). Reframing Rembrandt: Jews and the Christian image in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. University of California Press.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Ruth Dorot
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal. All authors agree for publishing their email adresses, affiliations and short bio statements with their articles during the submission process.