Head of Christ, c.1648-56 Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Head of Christ, c.1648-56 Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) is universally acclaimed as the greatest master painter of the Dutch Golden Age, the seventeenth-century efflorescence of art in the Netherlands. Thanks to an inventory of his home and studio conducted in July 1656, we know that Rembrandt kept in his bedroom two of his own paintings called Head of Christ. A third painting—identified as a“Head of Christ, from life”—was found in a bin in Rembrandt’s studio, awaiting use as a model for a New Testament composition. Today, eight paintings survive that fit this description, all painted by Rembrandt and his pupils between 1643 and 1655. Bust-length portraits, they show the same young man familiar from traditional artistic conceptions of Christ, yet each figure also bears a slightly different ex-pression. In posing an ethnographically correct model, Rembrandt overturned the entire history of Christian art, which had relied on rigidly copied prototypes for Christ, which were not overtly Semitic Jewish in appearance.

Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus reunites, for the first time, the eight paintings of this exceedingly rare and singular series—complemented by more than fifty related paintings, prints, and drawings—allowing visitors to consider the religious, historic, and artistic significance of these paintings, all while pondering fascinating issues of attribution derived from Rembrandt’s collaboration with students and apprentices in his workshop. Objects of private reflection for Rembrandt, the paintings in this exhibition bear witness to Rembrandt’s iconoclasm and his search for a meditative ideal.

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