Rembrandt's draftsmanship and the traditions of renaissance art

Sell, Stacey, Department of Art, University of Virginia
Goedde, Lawrence, Department of Art, University of Virginia


Rembrandt's drawings have been the subject of countless studies, most of which have focused on the traditional concerns of drawing scholarship. A discussion of his drawing practices in the context of Italian Renaissance traditions, however, indicates that even the more unusual aspects of his methods often have precedents and parallels and offers explanations for many of these practices. The patterns that emerge from a study of this type have wider implications in Rembrandt's career, revealing him as a self-conscious and ambitious artist who selected from the practices of a number of traditions and developing his own methods, with the goal of defining his identity as an artist and stimulating his creative energies.

The first chapter of this dissertation provides a background concerning the ways in which Rembrandt could have familiarized himself with Italian art and theory. The second discusses the general trends of style and technique in his drawings, linking aspects of these with Italian and in particular Venetian art. The third examines his use of his drawings, which reveals his ambitions as a virtuoso artist and reflects the importance of the imagination in his work. The fourth chapter focuses on the roughness that characterizes most of his sketches throughout his career, which was highly unusual in the context of Northern tradition but had specific positive associations in Italian art, namely the creative furor and sprezzatura of the virtuoso artist. In the fifth chapter, his studio practices are examined in connection with his drawings, again revealing the importance of the imagination to his sketches and his art as a whole. Finally, the sixth chapter examines Rembrandt's use of drawing in the training of his pupils, noting that in many ways his teaching methods were highly traditional but that some aspects, including exercises designed to teach the student how to adapt the work of other artists and to develop his imagination, are more unusual and reflect the importance of these activities in Rembrandt's own art.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
renaissance art, draftsman, Rembrandt

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:06.

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