Rembrandt and Rubens: A Comparison Study

To compare both Rembrandt and Rubens at the peak of their artistic careers is like comparing apples and oranges, with a common denominator the term “fruit”. As gentle and natural was the art of Rembrandt, Rubens seemed to move continuously throughout the canvas in a continuous motion of sheer power and drama.

They were two different types of men considered grand masters of their time, yet they approached art from two entirely different levels of humanity – – Rembrandt with more gentle feeling and emotion than any other painter of his time, his early works focusing on the common man and spirituality, with Rubens as a high-striving successful court appointee with an air of pure drama in every brush stroke he made for his commissions.

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The art of both Rembrandt and Rubens made them famous for their artistic skill in utilizing extreme power and high levels of energy – – how they chose to portray this was what separated them as artists, as they alternatively wove in and out of their lives with similar styles in their artwork. Rembrandt had a talent for soft and emotional work that approached the common levels of humanity, yet he approached the Baroque style in his artwork, “The Blinding of Samson”. Rubens on the other hand used the Baroque style continuously until his latter years, where his work took a turn into more tenderness and serenity.

Both men had a lot in common, just at different times in their life. In comparison to the life of Rubens, in Rembrandt’s life the Dutch court of the Prince of Orange did not purchase pictures. The high finances that were available to Rubens with his court and Catholic connections were not present in Rembrandt’s life – – due to his continuous overspending, money and finances seemed to always be a struggle for him, which is quite possibly why he chose to connect with the common man and the religious aspects of the world instead of commissioning massive amounts of work from the Church or royalty.

In his early picture, “Tobit and Anna” the religious air that was present in usual Holland art was not present in this picture, demonstrating his compassion for humanity in “a new, Protestant attitude toward Old Testament scenes” that would appear repeatedly in his later art. (Janson, 1971). Rembrandt was an individual who was deep in his approach to mankind, as compared to the more superficial attitude of Rubens, with this particular early work allowing its viewer to see how intimate was the relationship between the man and wife as they sadly contemplated the death of the young goat.

Rubens lived a life that was quite the opposite of Rembrandt – – he helped the Baroque art spread by spending eight years studying its art in Italy. Studying art since he was a child in the courts with a life spent in its midst, his whole life was about drawing for someone else of the court, while Rembrandt’s essence was himself, which he always wanted to sell first. Yet the art of Rubens was dramatic movements, full of high impact energy, as his own personality was.

His powerful work, “ ‘The Raising of the Cross’ was the first work to cross the barriers of taste and style between North and South”. (Janson, pg. 228). It was said of Rembrandt that “ from beginning to end, Rembrandt’s art was charged with more human feeling than that of any previous painter before him” which was demonstrated throughout his life in his works. (Janson, pg. 236). His numerous self-portraits allowed their viewers to see what Rembrandt was always searching for – – himself.

With both men dying at age 63, the end of Rubens’s artistic career came to match that of Rembrandt when he was influenced by the artist Titian during his later years. His artwork then took a turn to become tender and full of serenity, similar in nature to the artwork of Rembrandt that he did his whole life. Both men ended their lives different from where they started, at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The emotional gentleness of Rembrandt was mirrored in the late works of Rubens, where “…Titian became Ruben’s major source of inspiration in his late years, when his style changed from turbulence and drama to tenderness and serenity”. (Janson, pg. 232). Rembrandt’s opposite mirror was demonstrated with his Baroque style and also “. . . his subtle color and design. Everything seems to be in a state of transition here – – the light, the mood, even the movement of the horse”. (Janson, pg. 236). Both men had lived their life in a full circle, connecting the circle in the end quite the opposite from where they began.