Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Nov. 20, 2011Feb. 12, 2012, brings together for the first time many of Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijns finest paintings, prints and drawings that portray Jesus and events described in the Bible. The exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Musée du Louvre and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition of 64 works includes approximately 52 small, intimate paintings, prints and drawings by Rembrandt and his students that illustrate how Rembrandt broke from traditional 17th-century representations of Jesus. In addition to the organizers, works come from more than 30 lenders, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum in New York; and the British Museum and National Gallery in London.
Western portrayals of Jesus in the 17th century were based on ancient Greek sculpture and Renaissance imagery, and represented him as either performing heroic actions or the embodiment of profound suffering. Rembrandts own initial renderings of Jesus conformed to this tradition.
In the 1640s, Rembrandt developed a radically different concept. He was the first Western artist to present Jesus as Jewish, likely based on models from Amsterdams vibrant Jewish neighborhood where he lived and worked. Additionally, he depicted Jesus as vulnerable and humble, one whose existence compelled reverence in the minds and imaginations of those around him. In Rembrandts art, Jesus became an object of meditation not because of his suffering but through his presence as an affirmation of goodness and a source of deep spiritual inspiration.
Rembrandts images were a bold departure from traditional renderings of Jesus by Western artistsboth of his time as well as before and well after him, said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. Visitors will have a rare opportunity to see how Rembrandt developed this image and how he employed his famous chiaroscurolight and shadowto profound spiritual effect.
Two masterpieces in the exhibition illustrate the significant shift in Rembrandts approach: Supper at Emmaus, a hauntingly beautiful painting of the biblical account of Jesus appearance to his followers after his resurrection; and The Hundred Guilder Print (Christ Preaching; Bring Thy Little Children unto Me), which shows Jesus preaching before a crowd. The Hundred Guilder Print showcases Rembrandts unparalleled mastery of printmaking, using every style and technique in his repertoire to create the works stunning effect.
Rembrandt and his apprentices also painted a series of small, contemplative portraits of Jesus on oak panel. These paintings clearly held deep personal meaning for Rembrandt, who hung one in his back parlor and another in his small studio. Seven of these exquisite panels exist today, including one in the collection of the DIA.