7 Reasons We Love Rembrandt on His Birthday

Rembrandt was fond of embedding his paintings with secret codes.

Few artists have paralleled the success that Rembrandt van Rijn achieved within his lifetime.

Today, his legacy continues to yield him enduring popular attention. What’s more, his artistic contributions have been a source of inspiration for countless artists to come. As fellow Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh once said about Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride, “I should be happy to give ten years of my life, if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.”

To honor Rembrandt on his birthday, we decided to celebrate the Old Master for reasons beyond his mastery of chiaroscuro.

1. Rembrandt is widely remembered as “one of the great prophets of civilization” because he was a genuinely compassionate person.
Born into humble beginnings, Rembrandt’s sensitivity to suffering is apparent in his depictions of and renowned associations with the Jewish population in Amsterdam. In his survey of Western civilization, art historian Sir Kenneth Clark noted that Rembrandt tolerated diversity and deeply empathized with the human condition.


Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Rembrandt with a Gorget (1629).
Photo: via wikimedia.org.

2. He was big on selfies.
His oeuvre contains a whopping forty paintings of self-portraits. Suffice it to say, Rembrandt was particularly fond of using himself as a subject—so much so that he even had his students replicate them (as part of their training, of course). Britain’s National Trust recently snagged one of their own last year.


Rembrandt van Rijn, Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Bannick Cocq, or The Night Watch (1642).
Photo: Courtesy of Museum Het Rembrandthuis.

3. As further testament to his creative genius, Rembrandt employed ciphers and visual riddles in his work.
Art historian Zhenya Gershman’s research on the artist revealed that Rembrandt was apparently fond of embedding secret codes and messages into his paintings. His famous print The Alchemist, for example, contains a well-hidden secret inscription that, when deciphered, spells “God” in Hebrew.

4.  His love of art inspired him to collect works of his own, including suits of Japanese armor, busts of Roman emperors and select Old Master paintings.
In his fascination with the visual arts, Rembrandt took to starting his own collection of paintings and antiquities. These items included objects from Asia, prints and paintings, and a selection of natural minerals. Over time, however, Rembrandt couldn’t sustain his expenses and was forced to sell his prized possessions at auction.


Rembrandt van Rijn, Descent from the Cross: Second Plate (1633).
Photo: Courtesy of Christopher-Clark Fine Art of artnet

5. At the height of his powers, he was an expert visual storyteller.
Needless to say, Rembrandt’s artistic output is the stuff of legend. Throughout his career, his works, which ranged from commissioned portraits and landscapes to biblical episodes, were always informed by his vast knowledge of classical compositions and his talent for observation.

6. He liked dogs.
Rembrandt also liked dogs, a penchant which is verified here, here and here.


Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632).
Photo: Courtesy of Museum Het Rembrandthuis.


7. Rembrandt was a willing teacher to many.
In the years he spent living and working in Amsterdam, Rembrandt was flush with dozens of pupils who were attracted to his flourishing reputation. Though the number of students he taught is unconfirmed, Rembrandt was eager to offer extensive tutelage to artists in every stage of their development. According to Museum Het Rembrandt, the Old Master nurtured young artists, refined apprentices, and even ‘amateurs’ who simply wanted lessons.

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