Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Rembrandt’s Influence on Photography

This past Friday I took my daughter and her friend Ashley to the NC Museum of Art to see the much touted Rembrandt in America Exhibition. This apparently was the first major exhibit of Rembrandt paintings, drawings and etchings in America. Close to 50 great works gathered from museums and private collections around the world.

There is nothing I would rather do than spend a day in a museum, so I was excited about making the 3 hour trip to Raleigh to see the show.

The one thing that stands out to me above all else when it comes to Rembrandt is his incredible ability to create a variety of nuanced and expressive lighting effects with oil paint. Many people don’t realize that since the invention of photography in 1839, photographers have studied Rembrandt and his use of Chiaroscuro and wide array of lighting effects on his subjects and translated (applied) them to the photographic medium. A great example of this is the Rembrandt lighting technique on the face of his portraits – including his self-portraits. A small inverted triangle of light below the eye on the dark (fill) side of the face.

Rembrandt had an uncanny ability to reveal the inner emotions, character and unique personality of his sitters in subtle nuances of light and color. This was on display in all its glory throughout the exhibition in Raleigh. It was as if Rembrandt was able to reach into the heart, mind and soul of his subjects and reveal their inner most depths to the viewers of his great portraits.

Photography owes a great deal to the art of painting. Portrait photographers can study how Rembrandt posed his subjects and applied his dramatic yet subtle lighting effects Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism to bring out the inner person. He was the master of this! There is no doubt that he was influenced by Caravaggio and Velasquez in his dark palette and use of chiaroscuro, however I believe he took the portrait to a whole new “higher” expressive level.

Just look at some great photographic portraits over the years and you will see Rembrandt’s influence in both lighting and pose.

Now don’t get me wrong – photography also had a profound impact on painters during the early years after its invention.

Impressionism is a great example of how painters started exploring and investigating more abstract realms due to photography being able to replicate external reality so much better, but painters like Rembrandt gave photography a set of guidelines and a foundation to build and expand on.

Rembrandt always stayed true to his art and never succumbed to the demands and whimsy of the marketplace. He was unwilling to alter his realistic, piercing style in order to appeal to the tastes of potential clients. He was a true genius and belongs in the art history hall of fame along side Michelangelo, Giotto, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso and Jackson Pollock to name some of my other favorite artists. And of course the guy who paints dogs playing poker 🙂

Make it a point to check out the show! You won’t be disappointed. You can reserve your tickets online at this web site. Click Here!


2 comments on “Rembrandt’s Influence on Photography

  1. Shannon Ayers
    December 2, 2011

    Sounds like you had fun… I’m hoping to get up there soon, just to let my artistic side come out even just for a little bit. My job keeps it tied up and I hardly ever have time to let it free. 🙂
    Have a great Holiday Season!

  2. keoughp
    December 2, 2011

    Yes Shannon…it is a great exhibition! Try and get up to it when you have time. Have a great Christmas as well! Hang in there!!

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