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The Descent from the Cross
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wbillingsley's picture

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If you read the museum’s description of this painting you might be given to believe that Rembrandt created it in the midst of a traumatic personal struggle, and that such struggles were something he regularly suffered from, the only relief being his art.

Framing the artist in this way, while very romantic, is actually wrong. Rembrant was a stone cold businessman, and this painting is a testimony to that.

The main way that Rembrant made his money was through his commissioned paintings; the problem being that for some of those commissions he just duplicated his previous work. This isn't Rembrant’s original Decent from the Cross. His first one was done in 1633 for a man by the name of Prince Frederik Hendrik. This one is nearly an exact replica of the first, made only a year later. So Rembrant was literally pumping these out with all the capitalistic shamelessness of an industrial era factory owner.

Ironically, “industrial era factory owner,” is actually kinda what Rembrant became, as not only was he mass producing his work, but also he was using child labor. Okay, maybe they weren’t exactly children, some were fully trained artists like Carel Fabritius, however Rembrant did have a butt-load of pupils whom he exploited ruthlessly. Records indicate that he had around forty to fifty of them at a time and the kicker is that, while they did work for him, he didn’t pay them...they paid him! Furthermore, they weren’t even allowed to put their name on the work they did for him. 

Now to be fair, Decent from the Cross is still a gorgeous piece, and Rembrant’s use of lighting is just amazing enough that he can get away with creating these works on an industrial scale. Moreover this work in the baroque style would qualify as a piece of “Counter-Reformation art,” something that the church was paying justifiably well for at the time. However, if anyone ever tries to tell you that these works came from some deep spiritual place within the artist, just remember that Rembrant basically charged student loans. 

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Wheelock Jr, Arthur K. “Decent from the Cross” National Gallery of Art: Online Editions 04/24/14 https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/collection/artobject/1200/version...
  2. Wheelock Jr., Arthur K. “The Descent from the Cross: Overview” National Gallery of Art: Online Editions viewed on 10/05/2019 https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.1200.html
  3. Web Contributor “Catholic Counter-Reformation Art” Encyclopedia of Art History viewed on 10/05/2019 http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/catholic.htm
  4. Web Contributor “Rembrandt the Entrepreneur” Museum Het Rembrandthuis viewed on 10/05/2019 https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/meet-rembrandt/rembrandt-the-entrepreneur/?...

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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Descent from the Cross (Rembrandt, 1634)

Descent from the Cross (1634), by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, is one of his many religious scenes. The piece is oil on canvas and now located in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The piece is intriguing stylistically in its unique figural composition and variety of lighting effects. Aside from composition, the painting is notable in terms of its historical context, from the connection between its subject matter and Rembrandt's family situation to its endangered location during World War II.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Descent from the Cross (Rembrandt, 1634).