The Nativity Through Rembrandt’s Eyes

This is one of those posts that exemplifies the axiom that when you click on my blog, you never know what you are going to get. Not all of you will care about this – and that is OK. I won’t judge, because I’m better than that.

Rembrandt Santa

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is a ridiculously long way to say “Rembrandt.” We all know about him. At the risk of this sounding like your Intro to Art 101 class, here is a quick refresher:

Dutch (Netherlands) • 1606-69 • Painting, etchings, etc. • Dutch Golden Era

When I go to the Met in NYC, I head straight for his paintings. Something about them fascinates me. The detail, the life-like quality, the use of lighting and shadow, blah, blah, blah. Someday, I hope to check out the Rembrandt Museum in Amsterdam. (Bucket list.)

What I have noticed over the years is that Rembrandt spent a lot of time thinking about, and creating, art that represented the life of Christ – especially the birth of Christ – the nativity, and associated events. He realized them in many different styles and methods.

So, I dug around and found some examples. You might not like them all, but you might like some, and I guarantee you will love one or two.

Here they are – if you click on the pic, it will take you to an offsite link to a much larger version. I highly recommend it.

And we’re off. First, we will see an etching entitled “The Nativity,” (1654). For those who don’t know what an etching is, think of “scratch art” where you scratch the black wax off, and reveal the colors underneath. Instead, this was done over metal, then acid is poured over it to eat the metal – leaving behind the ridges the artist wanted protected. The metal sheet then becomes the  printing plate, where ink is applied, then pressed to paper. Easy peavey. Not. If this were just a sketch, it would be OK, but an etching is like an inverted sketch, so it’s crazy hard, because you are drawing the parts you don’t see.

Etchings might not be your cup o’ tea, but I can assure you that Mormon and Moroni would have thought they were the coolest thing ever – and would have resulted in having pictures in the Book of Mormon.


Here’s another one called “Flight Into Egypt,” (1654). Yes, I know that technically it isn’t a nativity piece. Oh well.




One last etching from 1684: “The Virgin and Child With Cat and Snake.”  Snake? Look under Mary’s foot for some nice symbolism.

Mary Cat Snake

Did I say no more etchings? Oops – one – scratch that – 2 more. But this next one is different – it’s process is called “mezzotint engraving” in which the artists would rough up the plate so that less ink would adhere – which permitted half-tones and grayscale. Here is a groovy example. I don’t know the title or the year. (This one definitely deserves a zoom.)

Mezzotint Nativity

Look really close:  This is NOT the same piece – almost, but different, and using the earlier etching technique. You can see more detail.

Adoration of the Shepherds A Night Piece


Now for some paintings. (That’s where old Rembrandt was a master of shadows and light.)

First: “Adoration of the Shepherds,” (1646). You can see this in the National Gallery in London. (There is some relatively new information that leads experts to believe that this next one was actually painted by someone other than Rembrandt – possibly one of his students.  Here is a cool video that talks about it how they figured it out. Click Here.)

Adoration of the Shepherds

Here is “Adoration of the Magi,” (1632). Ridiculous detail. Awesome enlargement.

Adoration of the magi

“The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.” (1631) (Yes, I know it was after the nativity – leave me alone.)Presentation of Jesus

“Simon With Jesus.” (1669)

Simon with Jesus

“The Rest on the Flight to Egypt,” (1647)

“Rest on the Flight to Egypt”

And lastly, my favorite:

Adoration of the Shepherds Painted in 1646, there are others attributed to Rembrandt and some of his students, but this is my favorite.  I love how dark it is, with the main source of light emanating from the Holy Infant Jesus.

Adoration of the Shepherds 2

Thanks to Marsha for the link to a terrific enlargement HERE.

Adoration detail

There you go. Now we have as much culture as a tub of Noosa. Merry Christmas!

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  1. Somehow I missed this when it was first posted. I loved it. In art school I did my smester long old master study on Rembrandt. (my choice)

  2. these are close to my heart as I am a Van Orsdel with roots from Amsterdam. I have imagined Rembrandt and a VanOrsdel walking along the canel two strangers enjoying the sights. He painted one of the canel which i found when researching my family history,

  3. I share your passion for Rembrandt. Regarding sources, go to the Google Culture Project, enter the artist’s name and voila – visual database for every listed artist along with where the known paintings are in the world with links (for instant sourcing).

    Books are soooo 17th century. Bit like Rembrandt. Here’s what he looks like in the project:

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Okay MMM I must say I LOVE THIS POST! Tiny little thing you don’t know about me because why would you? My first BA is in Art History! The Dutch masters are amazing and Rembrandt is the best of them. He probably invented this other technique that will blow your mind, it is known for certain that Johannes Vermeer employed it, anyway it is so brilliant and amazing that you could do it at home and paint one of these amazing works! That is an entire other story, in fact I believe someone made a documentary about it so I will share that with you in a PM sometime, if your interested in the Dutch masters you will definitely be interested in this that I speak of.
    Back to the point, these works representing the life if Christ are so beautiful, The Adoration of the Shepherds is my favorite as well, he literally paints the light and no one can miss the symbolism.
    Merry Christmas MMM, this was such a nice Christmas post to read, and I learned yet another thing about the LDS blogger known as MMM, this is a tid bit I never would have guessed 🙂 raises your cool factor for us at the Bancroft house (Kris says Hi MMM and Merry Christmas, he always reads your posts with me but I am the official commenter another little known fact) which who would have thought it could get any higher? I think that one of the only other artists who paint light as well as Rembrandt is Monet but in a completely different style and totally different themes, can both be related back to God but it is not so obvious with Monet, he is painting nature, sorry off on a tangent there…Amazing post, Merry Christmas and thanks as always for sharing!

    1. Thanks! Always nice to have my “cool factor” raised! Who would have thought that a cretin such as I could have an appreciation for art? Glad you are the official Bancroft commenter, because Kris is obviously a slacker in that department. Merry Christmas to you all!

      1. Cretin? Cretin! Hardly…us Art nerds just get excited when we are reminded that art really is appreciated 🙂 I sent you those links I hope you enjoy! And yes Kris is a slacker lol 😀 He’s subscribed he just never comments…

  5. These are lovely images by Rembrandt . . . and others? If you look at the date of the The Virgin and Child With Cat and Snake, you will see that this etching seems to have been created after Rembrandt’s death in 1661. Is this work by a different artist? Thank you for clarifying this for everyone visiting this page.

    1. Very cool! I had no idea that such a book existed. Probably would have ben a lot faster than having to dig through all the stuff myself, but I appreciate your accusation. 😉

  6. I was invited to speak in Amsterdam this spring. Our little miracle prevents me from international flight right now- I was so disappointed. (Yet completely thrilled for the reason why at the same time) I wanted to see his museum. Thank you for this enlightening taste. It made me feel better.

  7. Loved this post, what talent and insight from so long ago. The art has depth and beauty. Would love to see these in person.

  8. I love the symbolism in so many of these works of art. My favorite is in the first “Adoration of the Shepherds” where the sheep with the boy shepherd is a black sheep. Not your typical fluffy white sheep one usually finds in nativity scenes. That speaks volumes to me. Thanks for sharing this MMM.

  9. You probably already know this, being a fan, but when we lived in the Netherlands we went to the Rembrandt museum, it is actually in the home he used to live in, and since he had to move out when he was declared bankrupt, and they still have the list of possessions that had been in his home, they were able to recreate it almost exactly the way it would have been when he lived there. Very, very neat. Definitely check it out someday!

  10. Okay, so WAY cool pictures/paintings/etchings. I admire artistic talent in others since I am devoid of any.

    PS – you wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Amsterdam. You might need me along to shield you from everything else but the specific art you are after.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful art, and the commentary to go with it. I have truly been educated and edified.

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