Biblical subjects account for about one-third of Rembrandt’s entire production. In Protestant Holland during the 17th century this was a little unusual. Religious art was not regarded as very important during this time. His baroque taste inspired very dramatic themes.
His style of religious art included biblical subjects along with subjects taken from classical mythology. He had an intense narrative power and dramatic animation that was very unique.
The Visitation is a painting that tells the story of a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist. The two women are bathed in a supernatural glow.
Many things are going on in this painting such as Zacharias descending the stairs with the help of a young boy and Joseph scaling a hill. The figures are linked through gestures that show intense emotion for each other. Even the animals have a distinct meaning in this composition; the dog symbolizes faithfulness while the peacock suggests vanity.Oddly enough the face of Elizabeth bears a distinct resemblance to that of Rembrandt’s mother who died while he and his wife were having a child.
Rembrandt’s biblical art has generally been regarded as the embodiment of a Protestant aesthetic. The painting entitled Rabbi was created as Rembrandt observed Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel while in an apologetic dialog with a group of “philosemitic” Protestants.
Return of the Prodigal Son is considered one of the most moving paintings in religious art because of its profound insight and sympathy for human affliction. A boy weeps as he kneels at the feet of his father who forgives him and welcomes him home.
Etchings and Engravings
Rembrandt was renowned for his fantastic etchings and engravings. He handled his engraving tools with such skill and speed that the finished prints conveyed the spontaneity of a sketch. Jesus Preaching known as The Hundred Guilder Print was one of his more popular biblical etchings.