The Words of Jesus of Nazareth

Part 1

The Life of Christ
Portrait of Christ's Head
Portrait of Christ's Head
Painted about 1650; Oil on wood;
State Museum, Berlin-Dahlem
MORE THAN ANY OTHER ARTIST OF the period, Rembrandt strove to give earthly reality to the face of Christ; and, at the same time, no other artist endowed that face with more radiant kindness - particularly in his later paintings. Such works, though radically different from most of so-called Christian art, reveal a true depth of spiritual understanding and sentiment. Rembrandt was also a painter of the common people of history and of his time. Because of his profound experience of humanity, he was able to portray his subjects not only as sinful yet repentant, but also as a being created in the likeness of God their Creator. Rembrandt's Christ was endowed with indescribable goodness and purity, the essence of one who would make the ultimate sacrifice in order to secure redemption for humankind.

As a painter, Rembrandt's works reveal a new kind of beauty, far removed from the classical kind - a vision and an interpretation of man which transfigures the least beautiful face, or the ugliest body. Like my friend C.H. might observe, Rembrandt was a painter of the insignificant or little people.


He was born Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn on the 15th of July, 1606, in the Weddesteeg at Leyden; the son of the village miller, Harmen Gerritzoon van Rijn, and Neeltgen Willems-dochter van Zuytbrouck, the daughter of a local baker.

Rembrandt entered the Latin section of the University of Leyden for a short-lived academic career. He departed from the school a brief six months later to become an apprentice under the hand of the popular painter Jacob Isaakszoon van Swanen-burgh, whose studio was also located in Leyden.

Portrait of Rembrandt
Portrait of Rembrandt,
Pen and ink wash, Signed and dated: RHL 1630

The Louvre, Paris

Jesus Christ in the Temple
The Young Christ in the Temple

In 1632 Rembrandt moved from Leyden and set up his studio in Amsterdam. This same year he began work on The Young Christ in the Temple, thus beginning a long and remarkable study of the life of Christ by arguably the world's greatest painter.
Rembrandt did not, however, casually assume his pursuit of depicting the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. During his time, much of the world of art surrounded the church and involved service to the Bishops and priests, as it was supported by the wealth of the organized church. Rembrandt, it seems, deplored this form or pandering to a church that was more concerned with physical adornment than it was with spiritual beauty. Skeptical of religious art, he kept somewhat of a distance from such patrons and commissions. Gradually, however, he began to explore his own relationship to the teachings and message of Christ through his paintings.
He portrayed himself, for example, as the transgressor in need of redemption, the fallen heir who had betrayed his father's trust - in the story of the Prodigal Son. In such an exercise he accomplished something that few artists would ever achieve. For by positioning himself within his studies of Christ's life, as a man in need of rescue and redemption, he was able to apprehend a deep perspective of the true nature of Christ's message, and appeal for humanity to lay down its burdens of guilt and suffering.

The Prodigal Son

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, the two dominant parables of Jesus, were themes to which he specifically returned time and again, as his numerous illustrations demonstrate. In each of his works devoted to this study, he moved beyond a formal artistic representation of the parable, probing instead his own understanding of the message and how this message related to the common man. Determined repetition, for example, drove Rembrandt to depict how the Good Samaritan took pity on the anonymous traveler attacked by robbers. The idea of failure, despair, and ultimate redemption, became one of his favorite themes; and this theme formed an unbroken thread of continuity between his work in oil, and pen and wash.

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