Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus brings together for the first time many of Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn's finest paintings, prints and drawings that portray Jesus and events described in the Bible. 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.
This exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Musée du Louvre, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Western portrayals of Jesus in the 17th century were based on ancient Greek sculpture and Renaissance imagery, and represented him as either heroic in action or as the embodiment of profound suffering. Rembrandt's 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 Amsterdam's 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.
Two masterpieces in the exhibition illustrate the significant shift in Rembrandt’s approach: Supper at Emmaus, a hauntingly beautiful painting of the biblical account of Jesus’ appearance to his followers after his resurrection; and Christ Healing the Sick, also known as The Hundred Guilder Print, which shows Jesus preaching before a crowd. The Hundred Guilder Print showcases Rembrandt’s unparalleled mastery of printmaking, as every printmaking style and technique in his repertoire was used to create its stunning effect.
The Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus Exhibition deserves to be called a "once-in-a-lifetime" art event, bringing together for the first time in a museum show 7 of 8 known oil studies of Christ, which Rembrandt painted in the mid 17th century. The question of what Jesus looked like has preoccupied sacred artists down through the ages. You can see a sampling of portraits of Christ in the first rooms of the show, conforming to traditional medieval and Renaissance notions of the perfect human. In Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery, on loan from London's National Gallery, Rembrandt also followed prevailing tastes early in his career, portraying a majestic Jesus with golden tresses.
Then, in the 1650s, the Dutch artist took the revolutionary step of painting Jesus "from life," giving him the features of a young Dutch Jew. This poignantly human, Jewish Jesus appears in the core images of the exhibition: the seven small panel paintings of the head of Christ and the splendid Supper at Emmaus, on rare loan from the Louvre Museum in Paris. Contemplating these paintings and the hauntingly beautiful, Christ with Arms Folded, the half-figure image of Christ in the "new style" from the Hyde Collection, which ends the Philadelphia show, you can't help but wonder how both sacred art and Jewish-Christian relations might have been transformed had Rembrandt's profound innovation in Jesus imagery not been largely ignored by later generations of European artists and theologians. Lovers of Rembrandt and of religious art will also be delighted to see the exhibition's fine selection of prints and drawings of Christ, including his famous Hundred Guilder Print.
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