Exhibit of Rare Rembrandt Etchings Opens at Church Museum

News Story

SALT LAKE CITY — Rare etchings by the great 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn will be on display at the Museum of Church History and Art beginning Saturday, 14 May 2005.

The exhibition features 46 etchings on biblical themes ranging from the story of Abraham in the Old Testament to the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Seventeen of the etchings were recently acquired by the museum. The rest were loaned by a private collector and by the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.

Rembrandt: The Biblical Etchings is believed to be the largest collection of Rembrandt’s religiously inspired etchings ever brought together in one place. The exhibit will run through 11 December 2005.

“We invite everyone to enjoy this unprecedented display of inspirational images by one of the great artists of all time. Rembrandt’s moving depictions of biblical events reflect his profound faith and lifelong search for truth,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church historian and recorder.

Rembrandt was born in 1606 in the Netherlands. He studied art in Leiden and in Amsterdam, where he died in 1669. Rembrandt became famous as a young man for his portraits and thematic artwork. Today he is regarded as one of the greatest of the old masters.

Etchings were popular in the 17th century. As affordable works of art, they were made and sold by artists all over Europe. Even in his own time, Rembrandt was a well-known artist whose prints were in demand. Rembrandt made over 300 etchings of different subjects, 70 of which depict biblical events and teachings.

One of the unique elements typical of Rembrandt’s biblical etchings was his practice of interpreting scripture from his Dutch viewpoint. He filled his etchings with images of common people in humble settings to represent events in the Bible.

“These prints are compelling in part because of the people and the setting,” observed Robert Davis, senior art curator at the Museum of Church History and Art.

“Rembrandt’s Roman soldiers at the crucifixion are Dutch peasants, and Mary holding the baby Jesus is a Dutch woman sitting at the window of a typical 17th-century home in Amsterdam,” added Davis.

Throughout Rembrandt’s career, the private and institutional demand for religious art in Holland was slight. It is remarkable, then, that a third of his 1,500 authenticated works are of Bible subjects.

With few patrons of religious art living in Rembrandt’s 17th-century Holland, it is clear that he turned to the Bible on his own for inspiration.

“Rembrandt’s approach was to ponder a biblical passage and then express it as clearly and directly as he could,” explained Davis.

Davis, commenting on the beautiful etching entitled Return of the Prodigal Son, said: “This etching shows how successful Rembrandt was at focusing on the meaning of the biblical story rather than on the details of the scene. The intense facial expressions of the father and son and their loving embrace are the focus of the etching rather than surrounding details of architecture, costume and landscape.”

During his lifetime, Rembrandt was an artist of fame, wealth and great possessions, but nearly everything he owned was auctioned off in the 1650s to pay his rising debts. When he died in 1669, an inventory was made of his holdings. The list was short and included only one book — his well-worn Dutch Bible.

Rembrandt: The Biblical Etchings can be seen at the Museum of Church History and Art on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and most holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The museum will be open on Memorial Day, Monday, 30 May, from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The museum is located at 45 North West Temple Street in downtown Salt Lake City and is one-half block north of the Temple Square TRAX station. Admission is free.

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