15 Facts About Rembrandt for His Birthday

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Although he’s most famous for his 1642 painting The Night Watch, Rembrandt created hundreds of paintings, drawings, and etchings in his life. Working during the 17th century Dutch Golden Age, he painted portraits and landscapes and explored themes from the Bible and classical antiquity. In honor of the artist’s birthday (he was born on July 15, 1606), read on for 15 facts about Rembrandt.

1. REMBRANDT WASN’T HIS LAST NAME—OR HIS BIRTH NAME.

His full name—Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn—requires a bit of parsing. Harmenszoon means that his father’s name was Harmen, and van Rijn refers to where his family lived, near the Rhine River. So his full name means Rembrant, son of Harmen, from the Rhine. For reasons that are unclear, he added the silent “d” to his signature, changing it from Rembrant to Rembrandt, in 1633.

2. HE SIGNED EARLY ART WITH HIS LATIN MONOGRAM.

Educated at The Latin School in Holland, Rembrandt studied religion, mythology, and ancient Roman works, speaking in Latin with his fellow students. His Latin name, Rembrandus Hermanni Leydensis, referred to his birthplace of Leiden, Holland—Rembrant, son of Harmen, of Leiden. Early in his career, Rembrandt signed his artwork with his Latin monogram “RHL.” Soon after, he began signing his name "RHL-van Rijn," then he briefly switched to "Rembrant," and finally, his most remembered moniker: "Rembrandt."

3. HE MARRIED HIS ART DEALER’S COUSIN.

Saskia, as painted by Rembrandt. Wikimedia Commons.

Rembrandt’s art dealer was Hendrik van Uylenburgh, a man who helped Rembrandt get commissions from wealthy art patrons. Rembrandt lived in Uylenburgh’s house in Amsterdam and painted portraits of the society people that Uylenburgh brought him. In 1634, Rembrandt married Uylenburgh’s cousin (although some sources say she was his niece), Saskia van Uylenburgh. Saskia came from a wealthy family, and with her fortune and Rembrandt's increasing salary, they were able to move to a trendy, affluent neighborhood in Amsterdam.

4. HE OUTLIVED FOUR OF HIS FIVE CHILDREN.

Titus, as painted by Rembrandt. Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt dealt with much loss throughout his life. He and Saskia had four children: Rumbartus, Cornelia, another Cornelia, and Titus, born in 1641, who was the only child to survive infancy. Saskia died nine months after Titus's birth, likely of tuberculosis. Twelve years later, Rembrandt had a daughter, also named Cornelia, with his housekeeper and lover, Hendrickje Stoffels. Stoffels died, likely of the plague, in 1663, and a few years later, Titus died at age 26 in 1668. Rembrandt died the following year and was buried in an unmarked grave.

5. A LOT OF MYTH SURROUNDS HIS LIFE…

Because scholars don’t have a ton of primary or contemporaneous sources, myth plays a big role in many of his biographies. Inaccurate information is often repeated as fact, and books and films, such as the British movie Rembrandt (1936), have propagated misconceptions about the artist such as that he was low-born and uneducated (neither of which is true—he was the ninth child of a well-off miller and a baker's daughter, and was educated straight through university). Although multiple biographies state that he was born into poverty, was illiterate, stingy, a slob, and worked for Sweden’s court, art scholars have proven these assertions false.

6. …AS WELL AS HIS MOST FAMOUS PAINTING, THE NIGHT WATCH.

Another oft-repeated legend is that his patrons hated his work on The Night Watch (which, despite another myth surrounding the painting, actually takes place during the day) so much that the painting brought about his downfall. Art historian Walter Liedtke of the Metropolitan Museum of Art refuted this claim, pointing out that Rembrandt got commissions from Amsterdam’s government and other important customers after The Night Watch was unveiled in 1642. Rather than being a failure that led to Rembrandt’s bankruptcy, his most famous painting was popular even in its own time.

7. HE ACHIEVED GREAT WEALTH AND SUCCESS…

Although Rembrandt’s wife Saskia came from a wealthy family, he earned plenty of money in his own right for his art. Starting in the 1630s, Rembrandt set up a studio and, when he wasn’t busy working on portraits for wealthy clients, he taught students. In 1639, he paid 13,000 guilders (an enormous sum) for an upscale town house, which serves as The Rembrandt House Museum today.

8. …BUT LOST IT ALL.

Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar" (1659). Wikimedia Commons

By the late 1640s, Rembrandt’s overspending caught up with him. He was earning less money because he was getting fewer commissions to paint portraits, he lost money on bad investments, and some of his paintings had been damaged or lost at sea. He couldn’t pay his mortgage, and in 1656, he declared insolvency. He moved his family (Titus, Hendrickje Stoffels, and their daughter Cornelia) to a smaller home in Amsterdam, sold his printing press, and auctioned off his massive art collection. By this time, Stoffels stepped in and began managing his affairs. She opened a small art shop to sell his paintings, and through her oversight, Rembrandt was able to concentrate on his artistic output once again.

9. HE REPORTEDLY PAINTED HIS DEAD PET MONKEY.

Arnold Houbraken (1660 to 1719) was a Dutch painter who wrote biographies about artists, including Rembrandt. According to Houbraken, Rembrandt was halfway through painting a portrait of a family when his pet monkey, Puck, died. For some reason, the artist decided to paint the dead animal into the portrait, alongside his depiction of the family. The family didn’t like it, and they allegedly told him to either remove or paint over the monkey. Rembrandt stubbornly refused and lost the commission. While no painting has yet been discovered to definitively have the monkey, modern Rembrandt scholars think it sounds like something he would do.

10. WE’RE NOT CERTAIN IF SOME OF HIS PAINTINGS WERE REALLY HIS.

Since the late 1960s, as part of the Rembrandt Research Project, scholars have examined the artist’s works to determine whether certain paintings were actually his. Some art historians claim that Rembrandt created thousands of drawings, paintings, and etchings, but others argue that many of his works were actually done by his students and assistants (and should be attributed to the School of Rembrandt). Because he didn’t sign all his drawings, scholars disagree about the authenticity of certain works, such as A Weeping Woman. In 2015, a team of art historians and restorers determined that Saul and David was indeed Rembrandt’s work, not that of his students.

11. HE NEVER LEFT THE NETHERLANDS.

Although some art historians inaccurately claimed that he lived in Italy, England, and Sweden, Rembrandt most likely lived his entire life in the Netherlands. Historians attribute Rembrandt’s strong use of chiaroscuro—the contrast between light and dark—to his teacher’s Italian influences. As a young man in Amsterdam, Rembrandt studied with Dutch painter Pieter Lastman, who had been to Italy. Lastman taught him techniques from Italian artists such as Caravaggio.

12. IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY, YOU MIGHT RANDOMLY SPOT HIM.

Rembrandt created more than 90 self-portraits, but he also liked to insert himself into his other paintings. He paints his face as a spectator in the crowd in several pieces of art, such as The Stoning of Saint Stephen (his first known painting), Raising of the Cross, and possibly even The Night Watch.

13. HE MAY HAVE BEEN STEREOBLIND (UNABLE TO SEE FULLY 3D).

In 2004, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School posited that Rembrandt was stereoblind: his eyes were unaligned, so he was unable to see in 3D. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the article argues that the artist’s oil paintings and etching self-portraits show that he had unilateral strabismus, meaning that his eyes were not properly aligned with each other. If Rembrandt was indeed stereoblind, his lack of depth perception would mean that he saw everything flattened, which could slightly help him recreate objects and people in 2D paintings and drawings.

14. A NEW REMBRANDT PAINTING DEBUTED IN 2016.

ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN // AFP // Getty Images

Thanks to the wonders of machine-learning algorithms and 3D printing, a group of data scientists and engineers from Microsoft working with a Dutch advertising agency created a new Rembrandt painting, called The Next Rembrandt. Using specific data points such as color, geometry, paint, and the face shape and direction of the people in his paintings, the team 3D-printed a new Rembrandt to give the painting texture … and it looks pretty authentic!

15. YOU CAN VISIT WHERE HE LIVED AND WORKED IN AMSTERDAM.

Rembrandt’s town house in Amsterdam, where he lived and worked for nearly 20 years, is now a museum called The Rembrandt House Museum. Built in 1606, the property houses collections of Rembrandt’s etchings, exhibits by artists whom he has inspired, and 17th century furniture. The museum also hosts etching workshops and paint preparation demonstrations.

10 Facts About Ansel Adams

Famed photographer Ansel Adams drained the color from life to great effect. His black-and-white photographs of famous landscapes like Yosemite National Park have been seen by millions, reproduced on calendars and posters, and recognized by presidents as being crucial to conservation efforts. If you’re curious to learn more about Adams (who was born on this day in 1902), take a look at some of these lesser-known facts about both his life and his life’s work.

1. An earthquake broke his nose.

Born in San Francisco to Charles and Olive Adams on February 20, 1902, Ansel was just 4 years old when San Francisco was struck by the great earthquake of 1906. During an aftershock, he lost his balance and fell face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. The damage was so severe that it would become a remarkable feature of Ansel’s face. Between his nose—which caused him a lot of problems socially—and a disdain for the formalized education he was receiving, Adams eventually elected to be tutored at home by his father and aunt before he got a “legitimizing diploma” and graduated with an approximately eighth grade education.

2. He originally wanted to be a concert pianist.

Adams was a solitary kid, studying at home and wandering trails by himself. He began practicing the piano at the age of 12, and by 18, he decided he would make it a profession and began a path to becoming a concert pianist. Throughout the 1920s, however, Adams’s frequent visits to the Sierra Nevada region stirred an interest in photography. After contributing images to the Sierra Club newsletter and opening a one-man exhibition in 1928, he decided, in 1930, to make photography his full-time career.

3. A granite summit made him famous.

As he became more interested in photographic pursuits, Adams got assistance from Albert Bender, an art patron in San Francisco who told Adams that he would help him circulate a portfolio of his work. One of the last images needed to complete the sampler was of the Half Dome, a sheer granite summit in Yosemite that extends 5000 feet above the valley. In April 1927, Adams climbed to a rock cliff known as the Diving Board and managed to get the shot he wanted. The image, Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, became one of his best-known works.

4. His work appeared on a coffee can.

Adams often agreed to commercial work in order to subsidize his more creative pursuits, trying to strike a balance between paying bills and garnering satisfaction from his environmental awareness ambitions. In 1969, the Hill Brothers Coffee Company licensed Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley for their 3-pound coffee tins. The containers can bring up to $1500 when they come up for auction.

5. He didn't shy away from critiques of World War II.

Portrait of internee Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943
Portrait of internee Tom Kobayashi at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943

Though Adams is best known for his nature photography, the outbreak of World War II drew his eye to an entirely different topic. He photographed the interment camp at Manzanar, one of many such sites that detained Japanese-Americans, depicting their prejudiced treatment at the hands of the U.S. government while being forced to exist in war relocation centers. Adams donated the collection, which included more than 200 photographs, to the Library of Congress in 1965, writing that “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment ... All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”

6. He was presented with the Medal of Freedom.

Collectively, Adams’s art was a giant portrait of conservation efforts intended to reveal the beauty of national landmarks and the value in preserving them for future generations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians, to acknowledge his efforts on behalf of environmental causes. Carter dubbed Adams a “national institution.”

7. HE "mutilated" some of his own negatives.

In order to stir up interest for his Portfolio VI book collection in 1974, Adams purposely limited the number of copies available by advertising that no more reproductions could ever be struck from the original negatives—he had run them across a check canceling device, destroying them. Adams later regretted the decision, writing in his autobiography that “negatives should never be intentionally destroyed.”

8. He had problems with a couple of presidents.

Adams’s political views on environmental conservation were embedded in the fabric of his identity. When politicians didn’t agree, he had no problem butting heads. Adams refused to take a presidential portrait of Richard Nixon due to Nixon's reluctance to support public lands. After meeting Ronald Reagan in 1983, Adams expressed disinterest in any further communication, telling The Washington Post that the president had no “fundamental interest or knowledge in the environment.” An earlier exchange with Playboy was more cutting: “I hate Reagan,” Adams said.

9. He didn't see any financial rewards until late in life.

“Professional nature photographer” was not considered a lucrative vocation when Adams was devoted to his craft. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when an associate advised him to stop selling prints and focus on his book collections, that Adams became financially solvent.

10. He had too many photos to print.

When Adams died in 1984, curators of his extensive 40,000-plus photo archives marveled at the fact that the photographer never found time to print many images they considered to be masterpieces. Thousands of portraits and color photos were tucked in shoeboxes, with some later appearing in collections of his work. Adams, a perfectionist, insisted on developing and exposing prints himself. He had taken so many photos that there simply had not been enough hours in the day to process them all.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

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