Art of Rubens and Rembrandt

Historical Periods Examples 

Please respond to the following question in 400-500 words. Your short essays should be well-organized, thoughtful analyses that engage the course material. Your responses must discuss specific works of art/architecture and provide ample visual evidence from the textbook to support your argument. Use the lecture notes and textbook for support, but you do not need to consult outside sources. Your response will run through TurnItIn software, so be sure to cite the textbook, when necessary.


Over the course of the semester, we examined a range of artistic approaches to the representation of three-dimensional space. Where some artists attempted fully naturalistic illusionism, for example, others rejected illusionistic space entirely. Please choose four examples to discuss how different artists, societies, and/or movements approached the representation of pictorial space. Your four examples must come from four different stylistic periods. Your examples should address how the cultural and/or philosophical contexts shaped these artistic approaches to illusionism. At least one (but no more than two) must be from the first half of course (prior to the midterm), and each of the four examples must be identified by artist, title, date, medium, and cultural/historical period.


Question: Compare the art of Rubens and Rembrandt also keeping in mind their historical, social, and religious backgrounds.

“The 17th century in Northern Europe was a period of political and religious polarization which left a lasting impression on all facets of society.  This was especially present in the Netherlands, which became the epicenter for the Northern European Baroque movement.  The southern part of the region, including Flanders, was under the control of the Spanish monarchy, while the north, including Amsterdam, became the Dutch Republic, a democratic society largely governed by the many guilds of the merchant class.  The south remained widely Catholic, while the north was essentially Protestant, and this contributed to the evolution of distinct artistic styles and subject matter.  As we shall see, although they were contemporaries, the Flemish Rubens and Dutch Rembrandt exhibited very distinct styles that can be attributed to social, religious, and political factors.

“Peter Paul Rubens, who was from Spanish Flanders, was a wealthy art dealer, diplomat, scholar, and court painter and advisor for the Spanish monarchy.  His patrons included dukes, kings of Spain and England, and aristocrats, as well as the Catholic church, and this is reflected in his art.  In two of his works Consequences of War and the Arrival of Marie de’ Medici, which were commissioned by the Medici family of Florence, we can see that Rubens’ primary goal is show the splendor of the Medici family and moreover, the aristocratic class; he achieves this by setting a dramatic and vivid scene with bold coloring and sharp movement.  For example, the piece depicting Marie de’ Medici arriving in France shows gods and angels joyously celebrating her, as if she were one of them.  As a court painter for the Catholic Spanish monarchy and the Flemish Catholic church, his religious-themed works, such as Elevation of the Cross, are very dramatic and highly emotional, as is often seen in Baroque art.

“Rembrandt Van Rijn, on the other hand, was from the Dutch Republic, where Protestantism, more specifically Calvinism, was the major religion.  Unlike Rubens, Rembrandt was not an aristocratic court painter; Rembrandt’s works primarily were self-portraits, or portraits of the members of the merchant guilds who governed the Republic.  Examples are his self portrait at the Kenwood House in London, and Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp, which is a portrait of a surgeon’s guild.  Rather than try to boast the splendor of the ruling class, Rembrandt’s goal is primarily to depict the middle class of merchants and the common man more-or-less as equals in simple compositions.  We do not see any divine intervention or extravagant detail as we do in Rubens’ portraits.  This same feeling is also seen in his religious works, most notably Return of the Prodigal Son. The Dutch Protestants strongly opposed religious art and imagery, and in Rembrandt’s religious works, we can see a more muted and spiritual take on biblical themes.  In his depiction of the return of the prodigal son and his father, the audience is shown an emotional, yet very serene scene that is meant to provoke quiet contemplation. This is in line with the Protestant focus on turning to worshipping the scripture rather than icons.”

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