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Rembrandt Today: Six Lectures by John Walsh

In fall 2016, John Walsh presented a series of six lectures that provide an overview of Rembrandt’s career. Walsh demonstrates the need to look patiently at the picture surfaces, and he outlines recent additions to what is known about the artist and his achievements.

Lecture Series

No Dutch artist produced a larger number of important works than Rembrandt van Rijn, and none has provoked more debate among art historians. In this series of six lectures, John Walsh, B.A. 1961, Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, presents an overview of Rembrandt’s career. Each lecture explores a single picture, first focusing on its details, then on its context. Prompted by the yearlong loan by Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo of Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, the series begins with a study of this especially fine portrait from Rembrandt’s early years. In the lectures that follow, Walsh examines works in the collections of the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; the Frick Collection, New York; and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, as well as etchings in the Gallery’s collection—a number of which are on view for the duration of the series.

Note: All lectures are held in the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Lecture Hall. Seating is limited. Doors open one hour prior to each lecture. Free tickets to the lecture are handed out in the lobby beginning one hour prior; ticket holders are guaranteed a seat. If the auditorium fills to capacity, visitors are invited to attend the live stream lecture at the Loria Center, 190 York Street, Room 250, less than a block away.

Generously sponsored by the Martin A. Ryerson Fund.

Learn More about the van Otterloo Collection

Lecture Videos

To view the lectures from this series, play the video at left. Lectures are also available on the Gallery’s YouTube channel.

View Playlist on YouTube

Recommended Readings

The following books are useful as background for the lectures:

Schama, Simon. Rembrandt’s Eyes. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Schwartz, Gary. The Rembrandt Book. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2006.

Westermann, Mariët. Rembrandt. Art and Ideas. London: Phaidon, 2000.

van de Wetering, Ernst. Rembrandt: The Painter at Work. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1997.

van de Wetering, Ernst. Rembrandt: The Painter Thinking. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.

White, Christopher. Rembrandt as an Etcher: A Study of the Artist at Work, 2nd ed. Yale University Press: New Haven, Conn., 1999.


Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, 1632. Oil on panel. Lent by the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection

Rembrandt’s Debut in Amsterdam

Friday, October 28, 1:30 pm

When he was still in his early 20s, Rembrandt closed his studio in Leiden, the Netherlands, and moved to the expanding metropolis of Amsterdam, where he quickly became the most sought-after painter in the city. His employers included many influential people, including the Prince of Orange, who commissioned biblical pictures from him. Focusing on the Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh (1632), Walsh considers the artist’s early career and the reasons for his success.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1635. Oil on canvas. State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Photo: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, N.Y.

Rembrandt the Dramatist and the Heart of the Matter

Friday, November 4, 1:30 pm

To Rembrandt and his clients, the most important works of art were scenes from the Bible and ancient myth—history paintings. Early on, he was praised for his ability to get to the heart of the matter, treating these narrative subjects with unprecedented originality and, as he developed further, with expressive force. Walsh uses Rembrandt’s multiple versions of the Old Testament story of the Sacrifice of Isaac as a case in point.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Hundred Guilder Print, ca. 1649. Etching. Yale University Art Gallery, Fritz Achelis Memorial Collection, Gift of Frederic George Achelis, B.A. 1907

The “Most Bizarre Manner”: Rembrandt’s Etchings

Friday, November 11, 1:30 pm

Rembrandt’s fame throughout Europe was due mainly to his large output of etchings. His novel way of creating these works was a subject of amazement. Walsh surveys the artist’s etchings, paying special attention to the Hundred Guilder Print (ca. 1649) and to his technical genius.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1658. Oil on canvas. Frick Collection, New York. © The Frick Collection

Rembrandt Presents Himself

Friday, November 18, 1:30 pm

Rembrandt made more than 70 self-portraits, an unheard-of phenomenon at the time. Looking at the variety of poses, costumes, and expressions the artist used to portray himself, Walsh discusses the various motives that writers have attributed to him, which often reflect as much about the writers and their time as about Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Syndics (The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild), 1662. Oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt’s Syndics and His Later Portraits

Friday, December 2, 1:30 pm

Five men and a servant at a table; why is their portrait so gripping? Walsh looks closely at the Syndics and other portraits Rembrandt produced in his later years, examining their rough, suggestive technique and their ability to intrigue and touch modern audiences.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Jewish Bride (Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca), ca. 1665–69. Oil on canvas. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Jewish Bride: Rembrandt’s Surfaces and Depths

Thursday, December 8, 5:30 pm
Reception to follow

Few people stand in front of the Jewish Bride for long and walk away unmoved. Examining this picture and other works that Rembrandt made in his last years, Walsh shows how the artist combined expressive body language, rich color, broken paint, and exotic costumes to restage historical events and charge them with emotional weight. Followed by a reception.

About John Walsh

John Walsh, B.A. 1961, is Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He was a paintings curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He received a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has taught courses on the history of art at Columbia and Harvard University, and he is currently a visiting professor in the Department of the History of Art at Yale University.