Edhird's Blog

Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit

Rembrandt: The Prodigal Painter Returns

2 Comments


By The Rev. Dr. Ed HirdRembrandt1

How do you feel about the world-famous Mr. Van Rijn’s paintings?

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is one of the few men or women in history recognizable from just his first name.  Others are Napoleon, Michaelangelo, and Cleopatra.  Today Rembrandt is known to hundreds of millions of people in all parts of the world.  Many art experts see him as the greatest of all Dutch painters, indeed as one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

By his subtle contrasts of light and dark, Rembrandt caused the people he painted to seem alive.  Theatre people often call Rembrandt the Shakespeare of painting –for his capacity to probe personality, his compassion for each person he depicts, and his feeling for grasping the dramatic moment and displaying it with moving effect.

On July 15, 1606, Rembrandt was born as the rembrandt-sea-galileeninth child of a well-to-do couple in Leiden, Holland.  While in his early 20’s, he developed an overnight celebrity status somewhat akin to the rise of the Beatles.  This brief time of prosperity and  popularity,however, was  followed by much sorrow and  rejection.  Championed as the Netherlands alternative to Peter Paul Ruben in Belgium, Rembrandt became very wealthy and over-extended.  Taking out an enormous mortgage on a beautiful house, he was accused of wasting his inheritance and living an indulgent lifestyle.

Rembrandt responded by painting himself with his wife Saskia, as a Prodigal Son/wealthy playboy with his latest female conquest.  As a young person, Rembrandt had all the attributes of the Prodigal Son: brash, overconfident, spendthrift, hedonistic, and very arrogant.  Money dominated and crippled much of his life.  He earned a lot; he consumed a lot; he wasted a lot.  Sadly, much of his energy and talent was depleted in protracted court cases about financial disputes and bankruptcy affairs.

Rembrandt’s best-known painting, the so-rembrandt_nightwatchcalled Night Watch, was both his greatest success artistically  and his worst failure relationally.  While painting the Night Watch, he made many people angry who would no longer buy his paintings.  The soldiers, who paid to be in the picture, all wanted to be front and centre. Instead of painting a typical group portrait, Rembrandt created a masterpiece where some soldiers were prominent and others were hardly visible.

Around that time, his wealthy heiress wife Saskia, whom he deeply loved and admired, died, leaving Rembrandt to care for his nine-month-old son, Titus.  Rembrandt had already lost his son Rumbartus in 1635, his first daughter Cornelia in 1638, and his second daughter Cornelia in 1640. Ten days before Saskia died, she changed her will so that Rembrandt would never be able to remarry without being disinherited.

After Saskia’s death, things worsened.  Rembrandt became involved in a very unhappy relationship with his housekeeper, Geertje Dircx.  When he refused to marry her, she took Rembrandt to court and won a settlement. In response, Rembrandt and Geertje’s own brother had Geertje confined to an insane asylum for the next five years.

Unable to marry, he then became involved in rembrandt03aanother scandal with his new housekeeper, Hendrickje Stoffels, whose pregnancy scared off even more of his Dutch customers.  His financial problems became so severe that in 1656 Rembrandt was declared insolvent.  All of Rembrandt’s possessions, his large collection of artwork, and his house in Amsterdam were sold in three auctions during 1657 and 1658.  In 1663, Hendrickje, who has been described as ‘one of the noblest souls to serve a troubled genius’, died.  Five years later, Rembrandt’s hopes were again raised and then dashed when he celebrated his son Titus’ wedding, only to see him buried that same year.  Only his daughter Cornelia, his daughter-in-law Magdalene van Loo, and his granddaughter Titia survived him.

Rembrandt became more and more fascinated with painting ‘old age’, as he felt that it often revealed the most about human nature.  Bludgeoned by tragedies that might have crushed a weaker man, Rembrandt achieved a new depth to his art.  Rembrandt was close to his death when he painted his Prodigal Son, seen by many as the last will and testament of a turbulent and troubled life.

In his Prodigal Son painting*, the essence of rembrandt06love was concentrated in the hands.  When the famous author Henri Nouwen saw the Prodigal Son painting in the St Petersburg Hermitage, he was struck  by the sight of  “a man in a great red cloak tenderly touching the shoulders of a disheveled boy kneeling before him.  I could not take my eyes away.  I felt drawn by the intimacy between the two figures, the warm red of the man’s cloak, the golden yellow of the boy’s tunic, and the mysterious light engulfing them both.  But, most of all, it was the hands –the old man’s hands–as they touched the boy’s shoulders that reached me in a place where I had never been reached before.  …”  Nouwen realized that Rembrandt must have shed many tears and died many deaths before he could have so exquisitely painted the father’s heart for his lost son.  Rembrandt  had once again painted himself as the Prodigal Son, but this time coming back home to his Father.

Instead of the rich apparel with which the youthful Rembrandt painted himself in younger days, he now wore only a tattered undertunic covering his wasted body.  The Prodigal Son, like Rembrandt, returned to the Father with nothing: his money, his health, his honour, his self-respect, his reputation…everything had been squandered (Luke 15).  Yet the good news of Rembrandt’s painting was that the Father still loved him and welcomed him home unconditionally.

Rembrandt indeed saw himself as the rembrandt_1661Prodigal Painter coming home to the true Father.  Rembrandt knew that he had wandered a long way, but that it was never too late to return home.  My prayer is that many of us may have the courage, like Rembrandt, to turn our hearts towards Home, where love and forgiveness are waiting.

*The Prodigal Son Painting: http://www.artchive.com/rembrandt/prodigal.html

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector

BSW, MDiv, DMin

St. Simon’s  Church North Vancouver

Anglican Mission in Canada

-author of the award-winning Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide

Advertisements

Author: edhird

I am the Rector of St. Simon's Church North Vancouver, B.C., having served there since 1987. Ordained in 1980, I have also served at St. Philip's Vancouver and St. Matthew's Abbotsford. My wife Janice and I have three sons James, Mark, and Andrew. I was the Past President and Chaplain for Alpha Canada. While serving as the National Chair for Anglican Renewal Ministries of Canada, I was one of three co-signers of the Montreal Declaration of Anglican Essentials http://www3.telus.net/st_simons/arm05.htm For the past 26 years, I have been privileged to write over 400 articles as a columnist on spiritual issues for local North Vancouver newspapers. In the last number of years, I have had the opportunity to lead conferences and retreats in Honduras, Rwanda, Washington State, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, and Toronto. My new sequel Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit, with a foreword by Dr JI Packer, is online with Amazon.com in both paperback http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/097820221X/ref=redir_mdp_mobile and ebook form http://tiny.cc/tanhmx . In Canada, Amazon.ca has it available in paperback http://tiny.cc/dknhmx and ebook http://tiny.cc/wmhmmx . It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook). Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form. Nook gives a sample of the book to read online: http://tiny.cc/vj3bmx . Indigo also offers the Kobo ebook version: http://tiny.cc/kreonx . You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook: http://tiny.cc/1ukiox The book 'Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit' focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus' healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how North Americans can embrace a holistically healthy life. In order to obtain a copy of the prequel book 'Battle for the Soul of Canada', please send a $18.50 cheque to 'Ed Hird', #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. For more info, please click on www3.telus.net/st_simons/nsnews030.html

2 thoughts on “Rembrandt: The Prodigal Painter Returns

  1. Thanks for sharing the story of Rembrandt. We, like the famous painter, often need that reminder how poor we really are when it comes to our own wisdom and how much we are loved by God.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s