With an extraordinary intensity, Rembrandt van Rijn’s “An Old Man in Military Costume” is an example of the artist’s use of dynamic lighting. The painting, on display at the Getty Museum, contains a single figure, an old man dressed in a military uniform. While one may appreciate the beauty of the work, to fully experience the passion and genius of the artist, it is necessary to see the painting in person. The delicate details that may be missed by a digital image are easily caught by the human eye. The proper way to view a Rembrandt is in the flesh; the difference is amazing.
Born in Leiden, Netherlands, Rembrandt was the son of a miller and a baker’s daughter. Unsatisfied with life at the University of Leiden, Rembrandt left school to pursue painting. He studied under Pieter Lastman who introduced the young painter to the works of Italian masters, particularly Caravaggio. Even though Rembrandt never traveled to Italy, his works bear the stamp of Italian influence, especially in his preference for dramatic lighting over Dutch smoothness. Moving to Amsterdam in 1631, Rembrandt began working for commission and became very successful. He painted “An Old Man in Military Costume” in 1631, during a time when his work was characterized by strong lighting effects. Neither a religious work nor a commissioned portrait, this work is more than likely one that Rembrandt painted for himself.
An unusual painting, “An Old Man in Military Costume” is a solitary figure against a blank background. The figure, an old man, is dressed in a somber military outfit; a simple costume without any frills or finery. The only decoration is a...
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... I was also impressed with the thought that Rembrandt touched the same canvas that I was viewing almost four hundred years ago. The painting serves as a direct link into the past; a past that is remarkable for all it accomplished.
A wonderful artistic example of light contrasting with dark, “Old Man in a Military Costume” is a remembrance of how closely connected we are with the past. When artists or historical figures are merely memorized names, they lose some of their impact; experiencing part of their lives reminds viewers of their humanity. Rembrandt’s painting has many visual layers while containing political and historical significance as well.
Elizabeth I. “To the English Troops at Tilbury, Facing the Spanish Armada.” The
Longman Anthology of British Literature. Vol 1B. Ed. David Damrosch. New
York: Longman, 2003.
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