The Musée d’art et d’histoire of Geneva holds 220 etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), which entered the Geneva collections from 1748. At the invitation of the Musée international de la Réforme, 61 prints of religious subjects are presented in the exhibition Rembrandt et la Bible. Gravure divine, complemented by the loan of 10 works from the Musée Jenisch in Vevey and one from the Krugier Foundation.
The theme seemed obvious for the venue: what other artist than Rembrandt delved so deeply into the Protestant Bible? He produced thousands of works from the Old and New Testaments, including 89 etchings. As an assiduous reader of the Bible, “it is not simply subjects that the painter extracts from the Bible; it is texts of the Scriptures that he comments on”, in the words of Pastor W. A. Visser ‘T Hooft.
In his lifetime, his etchings were admired by audiences of all denominations (mainly Catholics and Protestants). Today, his sense of observation and his rendering of universal attitudes and emotions in the face of given situations, like his compassionate vision of humanity, shines through and still speak to us.
Rembrandt was an avid reader of the Bible, and seven times etched saint Jerome (ca. 347-420), the doctor of the Church who produced a Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, based on the Hebrew original and the Greek version. Four of these etchings are presented in this exhibition along with a Vulgate printed in the Plantin workshop in Anvers in 1603, a Bible in Dutch printed in Leyden in 1609 and a Statenbijbel (State Bible) from 1637, the first complete official Dutch-language Bible of the Reformed Church.
Rembrandt etched some twenty scenes from the Old Testament. The choice of certain themes from Genesis, of which he etched 10 episodes, seems to have been influenced by the engravings of the great masters he collected, and with whom he wished to rival. He also had a real interest for the Book of Tobit, an apocryphal text rejected by Calvin but accepted by the Dutch Reformed Church, of which he etched three scenes. He dedicated some fifty prints to the New Testament. In these, his art evolved from the dramatic, theatrical baroque scenes of his early years (e.g. The Raising of Lazarus) to a more restrained formal language, focusing on the psychological effects of events, in particular the characters’ reaction to the presence of Christ, whose figure in Rembrandt’s work evolves towards a more intimate, personal description. The Hundred Guilder Print shows a cosmopolitan crowd listening to Christ. Rembrandt depicts the range of their reactions, through gestures and glances. The focal point is Christ, standing out against the dark background, luminous and radiant, the “light of the world”. Light symbolizes the irruption of the divine, divine immateriality.
The exhibition Rembrandt et la bible. Gravure divine is held at the Musée International de la Réforme, Cr de Saint-Pierre 10, 1204, Geneva.