Audio File length: 3.01
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

Now I'm going to tell you about three paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, the greatest of the 17th-century Dutch painters. Let's start with the smallest one, which was painted in 1654 and has always been one of the artist's most beloved works: Woman Bathing in a Stream.

With swift, full brushstrokes, Rembrandt depicts a young woman holding up her clothes to bathe in a pond while looking at her reflection. It is a very intimate and spontaneous image, both in her pose and in the artistic techniques used. According to one hypothesis, the girl was Rembrandt's lover. However, the rich red and gold cloak resting on the shore brings to mind a biblical scene with Susanna or Bathsheba, or a mythological depiction of the goddess Diana.

 

Also in this room, take a look at another Rembrandt painting titled Belshazzar's Feast.

 

This was painted around 1630, at a time when the painter's works were full of light, colour, and monumental figures. The scene is from the Bible: Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, is depicted in the centre urging his banquet guests to drink from the gold and silver cups that have just been plundered from the Temple of Jerusalem. Suddenly, a hand appears out of thin air and writes a mysterious phrase on the wall that announces the end of Belshazzar's reign that very same night. Rembrandt captures the most dramatic moment as the king turns around, filled with terror while he looks at the miracle. His sudden movement also frightens his guests: goblets are overturned, Belshazzar slams his fist on a metal plate, the guests are screaming. The musician in the background is the only figure who is unaffected, and continues to play without noticing anything.

 

Now move on to the third picture, Self-Portrait at the Age of 34, which marks the happiest moment in the artist's life and career.

 

Signed and dated on the parapet, the work presents the richly-dressed painter with a fur-lined coat, an embroidered shirt, and a large velvet hat decorated with a gold chain. Compare it with the other self-portrait in this room, which he painted at the age of sixty-three just before his death. This tired, weary painting highlights the artist's physical decline in an intimate and profoundly poetic way.

 

FUN FACT: Self-Portrait at the Age of 34 was inspired by a painting by Raphael that Rembrandt had seen at an auction in Amsterdam but failed to purchase. So to console himself, he decided to paint an identical one!

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