Famous Rembrandt Paintings

Famous Rembrandt Paintings – 10 Masterpieces You Should Know

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is considered a giant in the history of art. The Dutch artist was one of Holland’s most versatile and skilled painters, who was best known for his self-portraits and portrayal of biblical and historical narratives, which contributed to the imagery of the Dutch Golden Age. If you are interested in discovering the works of this exceptional artist, continue reading to unveil our selection of the top 10 most famous Rembrandt paintings from the 17th century!



Who Was Rembrandt?

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was perhaps one of the greatest painters of the 17th century. Best known as Rembrandt, the famous Dutch master lived between 1606 and 1669, and spent most of his time creating a bountiful collection of paintings and prints. Not only is he considered one of Holland’s most esteemed artists from the Dutch Golden Age, but he is also widely acknowledged as one of the most significant painters in European art history.

Rembrandt’s art was characterized by its splendid color, luxuriant brushwork, and expert utilization of light and shadow. The harmony within his use of contrast contributed to the renowned dramatic Rembrandt painting style we recognize today.

Rembrandt’s art spanned several genres. In his prolific career, he was most famous for his self-portraits and his historical and biblical scenes. He was celebrated for capturing the nuances of human expression, which aided his ability to accurately portray his subjects’ moods.

Famous Rembrandt Portraits Self-portrait (1659) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt’s portraits included group portraiture, which was wildly popular in the Netherlands during the time. Rembrandt’s art has given us some of the greatest group portraits in history. On top of that, Rembrandt’s portraits were largely made up of self-portraits, which successfully documented the passage of time, his personality, and the changes in his appearance from his youth until his mature ages.

In Rembrandt’s portraits, one can observe how he mastered the skill of capturing both an accurate likeness of his subject, including himself, as he was known to not show any mercy with his depictions or the particular expression of the subject in the moment.

Rembrandt’s paintings demonstrated his profound psychological understanding of people and their surroundings, as well as his devotion to the Christian faith. These factors fueled his life and his incredible portfolio of work. 

Rembrandt used a variety of techniques and materials with spontaneity and sensitivity to develop his pieces, each with its own message. His masterful approaches to shadow, color, and composition created art that was powerfully moving, yet demonstrated the most natural aspects of the human experience. He captured the emotional depth of his subjects and engaged the viewer in his pieces. This cemented his status as one of Europe’s greatest painters in history.



Exploring the Top 10 Most Famous Rembrandt Paintings

Famous Rembrandt paintings are admired for their remarkably realistic depictions of the complexities of human emotion. Rembrandt’s paintings make up a collection of over 300 artworks; many of which went on to influence artists who followed Rembrandt’s style. Below, you will find our selection of the 10 most famous Rembrandt paintings in the artist’s career that capture the essence of his skills. Before you dive in, see how many paintings you can identify alone! 


The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp (1632)

Date 1632
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)216.5 x 169.5 
Where It Is HousedMauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp is considered one of Rembrandt’s early triumphs. Rembrandt was only 26 years old when he painted this masterpiece and had only completed around four portraits at the time. The painting depicts the Dutch surgeon Dr. Nicholaes Tulp presenting an annual public anatomy lesson to seven surgeons on the body of Aris Kindt, a criminal who was executed.

The artwork was commissioned by the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons for their board room. Today, the famous Rembrandt painting sits in the Mauritshuis art museum in the Netherlands.

Rembrandt’s masterful composition captures Dr. Tulp demonstrating to his students how the muscles in the human arm are connected. Rembrandt created interesting dynamics in the scene by establishing contrast through the use of dark and light values, which became a popular style and featured quite heavily in his future artworks. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp was Rembrandt’s first significant commission.

Best Rembrandt Art The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt broke tradition by depicting a visually dramatic scene and positioning the corpse in the middle of the painting. The composition of the piece is pyramid-shaped, with Dr. Tulp commanding the right side of the portrait. The harmony of the painting is exceptionally well-planned with the proportions and positioning of the corpse, directing your eyes to the center of the painting.

The colors of this piece are limited to prevent distraction as it focuses on the relationship between shadow and light, apart from the corpse’s bloodied arm, which adds a pop of color.

This type of painting, which was recognized as a group portrait, became part of the Dutch legacy. The long-established and unique tradition honored and documented the members of organization or guild. Rembrandt received great acclaim for this portrait. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp is undoubtedly one of Rembrandt’s most recognizable paintings that has been referenced and reproduced many times.


The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)

Date Painted1633
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions160 cm x 128 cm
Where It Is Currently HousedUnknown since 1990

The magnificent painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, holds its title as Rembrandt’s only seascape painting and is also identified as one of the art world’s greatest mysteries. The painting was formerly housed in Boston in the United States at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum but in 1990 the painting was stolen. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is a portrayal of the biblical narrative where Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

If you pay attention to the dark, frothing, ferocious waves that terrorize the small boat, you will pick up on the influence of Peter Paul Rubens, who was the most prominent artist from the Flemish Baroque period.

The painting’s composition is divided into two triangles from the diagonal position of the boat’s mast. In the triangle on the left, the golden light illuminates the dark cloud and the edges of the waves and it highlights the dramatic scene. In the triangle on the right, amid the stirring commotion, there is a figure dressed in blue that stares directly at the viewer.

Rembrandt Art Inspired by Rubens The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The figure in blue is the only one directly engaging with the viewer and was also painted in the image of the artist himself. Rembrandt often painted himself into his art while inviting the viewer to share the emotional experience of his subject. Rather than passively witnessing the paintings, Rembrandt urged the viewer to become involved in the turbulent scene. Rembrandt’s depiction of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is magnificently detailed and consuming.

The varied expressions of the figures, rich colors, and polished brushwork characterize his early painting style.

The painting has had numerous mentions in popular culture. From being featured in episodes of well-known fictional television shows such as The Blacklist or Sneaky Pete to being used as the cover of notable books such as Peter L. Bernstein’s classic, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk, Rembrandt’s paintings continue to be celebrated and remain influential in popular culture. Unfortunately, this incredible work of art remains missing to this day.


Belshazzar’s Feast (c. 1635 – 1638)

Date c. 1635 – 1638
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)167.6 x 209.2 
Where It Is HousedNational Gallery, London, United Kingdom

The exact date of Belshazzar’s Feast is unknown but many sources place it between 1635 and 1638. Belshazzar’s Feast represents Rembrandt’s effort to establish himself as an artist who painted large, Baroque history paintings. The painting depicts the story of Belshazzar from the Old Testament. Here, Rembrandt depicts the banquet where Belshazzar blasphemously distributed wine in the sanctified vessels that Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem. Rembrandt’s painting style in this specific artwork is exceptional and does not compare to his other paintings. The color palette of Belshazzar’s Feast is also remarkably rich as it encompasses intense pigments such as azurite, vermillion, ochres, and smalt. Rembrandt’s skillful use of light and shadow makes it seem as if the figures emerge and retreat into the shaded areas. Rembrandt’s scene is a depiction of action, surprise, and fear.

The compositional positioning of each figure, their dramatic expressions, and recoiling poses involve the viewer in the scene.

Best of Rembrandt's Paintings Belshazzar’s Feast (1636) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Initially, Belshazzar’s Feast was not viewed as a triumph. The Earl of Derby from England was in possession of the painting from 1736 and it was scarcely known outside of England. In 1857, when it was presented in Manchester at the Art Treasures Exhibition, it was not well received by critics.

This lack of admiration changed in the late 20th century when Rembrandt’s historical paintings were re-evaluated.

When the National Gallery acquired the painting in 1964 it soon became vastly popular, becoming a favorite for commercial products such as album covers when used as an illustration. Then in 2014, the image of Belshazzar’s Feast was the third most licensed in the National Gallery’s collection.


Danaë (1636)

Date 1636
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)185 x 203
Where It Is HousedHermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

 Danaë is considered one of the best nude paintings from Rembrandt’s collection. The painting is a portrayal of the princess Danaë, the mother of Perseus who was a hero in Greek mythology. The depiction is practically life-sized and depicts Danaë welcoming Zeus, who impregnated her as he appeared in the form of golden light. Danaë was first painted in 1636 but Rembrandt reworked it considerably in the 1640s.

The artwork was purchased by Catherine II of Russia in the 1770s and it is currently housed at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. 

Rembrandt's Paintings Danaë (1636) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the painting, Danaë is lying in her bed naked. Instead of idealizing her figure, Rembrandt tried to capture the passion of her welcoming her lover. The figure was modeled after Rembrandt’s wife Saskia but he later altered the face of the figure to take after Geertje Dricx, his mistress. Through Rembrandt’s extensive reworking, he managed to change the placement of the figure’s head and outstretched legs and arms, among a few other edits.

In 1985, the painting was vandalized and cut twice with a knife, doused with sulfuric acid, and later restored in 1997.

The golden light floods in from the left side of the composition and creates this celestial illumination that showers over Danaë’s body. Rembrandt achieves sensuality and softness through his painting and although Danaë is the subject of this work, the golden light effectively occupies the space. There are not many mythological scenes in Rembrandt’s collection but this one stands out. The tenderness of his depiction of this nude and his masterful portrayal of light make Danaë stand out as a spectacular work of art.


The Night Watch (1642)

Date 1642
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)363 x 437 
Where It Is HousedRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The Night Watch is considered one of the most notable paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and Rembrandt’s most famous painting. Rembrandt’s painting is quite the spectacle; its sheer size puts it at close to four meters tall. It goes by several other titles that are significantly longer, including The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. It is no surprise that the apt name The Night Watch stuck and became its unofficial title. Surprisingly, The Night Watch is not actually a depiction of a night scene. Around the mid-1940s when the painting was cleaned, it was revealed that the scene was, in fact, set in daylight. When The Night Watch was relocated during the 18th century, the painting was trimmed.

This led to a change in composition with the loss of some of the figures, making the two men, whose names make up the original title of the painting, as well as the woman in the background, the central figures.

Rembrandt Painting Style The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt’s use of dramatic illumination is prominent, highlighting the contrast between light and shadow, as well as the perception of motion in the group portrait, which was derived from the typically static military portrait that was popular at the time. He chose to present the crowd of figures in a bustling scene and capture the military in motion rather than presenting the group in a formal, stately pose.

The magnitude of the figures make them appear life-sized. His composition makes one believe as though the 34 characters are moving toward the viewer.

The intensity of the painting comes from Rembrandt’s masterful use of light and shadow. The realistic and dynamic depiction is made all the more impactful due to the magnitude of the painting and its figures, as if they are sharing the space with the viewer. Rembrandt was at the pinnacle of his career when he created The Night Watch. This ambitious feat proved to be another success and it is considered one of the most renowned paintings in group portraiture. 


Bathsheba at Her Bath (1654)

Date 1654
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)142 x 142 
Where It Is HousedThe Louvre, Paris, France

Another life-sized canvas displays Rembrandt’s portrayal of the biblical figure Bathsheba. The painting was completed in 1654 and depicts a scene from the Old Testament, where King David catches sight of Bathsheba bathing and proceeds to seduce her, leading to her pregnancy. In Bathsheba at Her Bath, the nude itself was part of the subject of the painting, which was still relatively unusual at the time, especially when a non-idealized body was presented.

However, Rembrandt did not establish a strict boundary between daily life and art.

Although this specific scene has been painted before, Rembrandt’s version brings a different perspective through its tight pictorial focus and his portrayal of erotic vitality. This was achieved by using vibrant and rich coloration and thick brushstrokes. The figure Bathsheba is in a shallow ambiguous space, her figure is being illuminated while leaving the background in obscure darkness. Her body has been delicately shadowed and she is adorned with fine jewelry and beautiful fabrics.

Famous Rembrandt Art Bathsheba at Her Bathtub (1654) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt captures Bathsheba’s pensive nature as she holds a letter in her hand. King David had asked for her to appear before him and her expression discloses that, although she is interested, she is concerned because going to see King David would mean betraying her husband.  The harmony of colors, with the cream, copper, and gold tones, provides a luminous setting.

The mellow contrast between light and shadow and the psychological complexity of the composition all contributed to the vast popularity of the painting, thus making it a study of seduction and innocence.

Rembrandt’s depiction reveals an insight into the moral dilemma Bathsheba was facing, which has been described as an immense accomplishment in western painting. Bathsheba at Her Bathtub went on to inspire many works of art from 19th-and 20th-century artists, including artworks such as Frédéric Bazille’s La Toilette (1869-1870) and Edgar Degas’ Woman Having Her Hair Combed (1886-1888). Rembrandt’s rendition of Bathsheba is another contender for the greatest nude of his collection. 


The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1661 – 1669)

Date c. 1661 – 1669
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)262 x 205 
Where It Is HousedHermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Among the last of Rembrandt’s paintings is The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is said that the painting was finished shortly before his death in 1669. The life-sized artwork is a portrayal of the biblical narrative that describes the prodigal son returning to his father and begging for forgiveness as he regrets his past sins. The painting surpasses the work of other Baroque artists with its ability to evoke human sympathy and religious mood. The viewer is able to witness the entirety of this painting and what it represents, the symbol of homecoming, the gloom of the human experience brightened by tenderness, and the sinful and weary actions of mankind that take refuge in God’s mercy.

The painting is hauntingly beautiful. It is admired by critics for its quiet and moving quality, depicting the tenderness of the relationship between father and son that shares their intimate bond with the viewer.

Rembrandt Art The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1669) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many believe that the father’s expression displays multiple emotions at once, including love, mercy, and grief. The depth of emotion and complexity in the father figure’s facial expressions stand out in this painting. The Return of the Prodigal Son demonstrates Rembrandt’s immense talent as he used expressive coloring and lighting to evoke the story’s message of forgiveness. The Return of the Prodigal Son remains as one of the top highlights of the Hermitage Museum. Among the many famous Rembrandt paintings, The Return of the Prodigal Son is considered one of his most moving pieces, admired for its ability to capture the powerful bond between father and son.

Critics consider this incredible work of art a tremendous accomplishment in Baroque art. 


Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (1662)

Date 1662
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)191.5 x 279 
Where It Is HousedRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild is also known as The Sampling Officials. This painting has been described as Rembrandt’s last master group portrait. The portrait depicts the Amsterdam Drapers Guild syndics, apart from the man without a hat in the background, who was a servant that evaluated the quality of the weavers’ fabrics given to guild members. The Amsterdam Drapers Guild commissioned the painting for their guildhall, which housed the painting until the 1770s. Now the painting can be found at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt used incredible detail to capture the various facial expressions of the figures in the portrait, giving each individual their own personality.

Famous Rembrandt Paintings Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (1662) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

He used compositional devices to give the portrait a powerful feeling of togetherness. The five officials have each been given equal importance in the painting, which demonstrates Rembrandt’s skills. Their servant in the background falls in the center of the painting, yet the entirety of the piece manages to remain united through formal and psychological means.

The subtlety of the composition was achieved through Rembrandt’s expert exploitation of horizontal planes, which brilliantly united the group.

The use of contrast, from the sharp white and black on the men’s uniforms and the glowing colors to the golden browns and rich red of the rug on the table, all contribute to the harmony of the painting. Rembrandt was a master at painting group portraits and Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild is no exception. It is regarded highly and considered one of the most famous Rembrandt paintings in the genre.


Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665 – 1669)

Date c. 1665 – 1669
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)114.3 x 94 
Where It Is HousedKenwood House, London, United Kingdom

Rembrandt’s portraits make up a vast selection of his work. In fact, he had more than 40 self-portraits. Self-Portrait with Two Circles is considered one of his best self-portraits and holds its own amongst his later work. The painting depicts him at work, holding his maulstick, palette, and brushes. In the background, there are two mysterious semi-circles.

Over the years, critics have come up with various theories regarding the meaning of the circles that range from them being a world map to several symbolic meanings. However, their true meaning remains unknown. 

The painting has areas that seem unfinished, such as the hat and the face, where the paint has been applied thickly with rapid brushstrokes. The exclusion of date and signature further indicate that the work may be incomplete. Although the work may not have been complete, it still influenced artists that followed. Rembrandt’s rapid brushstroke technique, as demonstrated by his restless hand, was later replicated by Édouard Manet in the 19th century.

Rembrandt Portraits Self-Portrait with Two Circles (c. 1665-1669) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Rembrandt stands defiantly with one hand on his hip, giving the impression that he is a master at work asserting his brilliance. Rembrandt engages with the viewer by staring directly at them. He depicted his face with realism and vulnerability, while lightly casting a shadow over it to suggest his intelligent mind was actively curious and discerning. Rembrandt produced more self-portraits than his peers at the time, surpassing them in number, and arguably, in skill too.

He would regularly turn his attention to studying his own face in great detail, leaving behind a legacy of intricately detailed self-portraits in the forms of etchings, drawings, and paintings that effectively documented his aging.


The Jewish Bride (c. 1665 – 1669)

Date c. 1665 – 1669
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)121.5 x 166.5
Where It Is HousedRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

 Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride was painted somewhere between 1665 and 1669. The painting gained its title from an Amsterdam art collector early on in the 19th century. He suggested that the painting was a portrayal of a Jewish father gifting a necklace to his daughter on her wedding day. Another interpretation alluded to the figures being Rembrandt’s son, Titus, and his wife, or the biblical figures Isaac and Rebekah. The accepted understanding is that the portrait simply depicts a couple.

The ambiguity and speculation behind the figures’ identities stem from the lack of context in the painting, as there is no scenery, leaving the intimacy of the couples’ moment in focus.

It highlights the universal theme of the painting, that of a couple experiencing a moment of tenderness and love. The Jewish Bride is an example of portrait historié, which describes portraits that depicted patrons as mythological or biblical figures to emphasize their virtue, fidelity, and piety. This method of portraiture was popular during the 17th century of the Dutch Golden Age.

Top Rembrandt Art The Jewish Bride (c. 1665-1669) by Rembrandt van Rijn; Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In The Jewish Bride, the paint holds the same importance in the composition as the figures in the painting. Rembrandt left the paint as rough brushwork. Although the faces of the figures are smooth and creamy, for the garments Rembrandt used his palette knife to layer his pigments to achieve a textured look that mimicked the appearance of intricate lace, luxuriant brocades, delicate folds, and shimmering jewelry. Rembrandt experimented with various effects by following the different drying rates of the pigments. The composition of The Jewish Bride is considered one of the most exceptional expressions of physical and spiritual love. Rembrandt captured the raw emotion in his work. This psychologically expressive piece of art forms part of the permanent collection in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. While we have covered the top 10 most famous Rembrandt works, you can also look into his other iconic paintings such as Landscape with the Good Samaritan (c. 1638), The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (c. 1661-1662), and other works that reflect the master printmaker’s best creations. 


There is no easy way to condense an artist’s life’s work into a short list of favorites, especially when their contribution to art has been monumental. Nonetheless, we hope you enjoyed reading through our selection of the top 10 most famous Rembrandt paintings. If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you continue exploring our website since there are loads of intriguing art topics to choose from!




Frequently Asked Questions


Why Is Rembrandt Famous?

Rembrandt was famous for his portraits, including self-portraits, and his portrayal of biblical and historical narratives. He created over 300 works of art during the Dutch Golden Age and is considered to be one of Holland’s most versatile and skilled artists. Rembrandt remains one of the most significant painters in European art history.


What Was Rembrandt’s Most Famous Painting?

Rembrandt’s highly acclaimed painting, The Night Watch from 1642, is considered to be among his most famous paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. The sheer size of the figures made them appear life-size. In this daring piece of work, Rembrandt chose to present the crowd of figures in a bustling scene and capture the military in motion, which was considered groundbreaking for its skillful use of contrast and emphasis on motion.


What Was Rembrandt’s Painting Style? 

Rembrandt’s painting style falls under the Dutch Golden Age period. Although the work he produced during the 17th century depicts a wide variety of subject matter and styles, his work was largely categorized under the Baroque style of painting. 


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Famous Rembrandt Paintings – 10 Masterpieces You Should Know.” Art in Context. November 8, 2021. URL: https://artincontext.org/famous-rembrandt-paintings/

Meyer, I. (2021, 8 November). Famous Rembrandt Paintings – 10 Masterpieces You Should Know. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/famous-rembrandt-paintings/

Meyer, Isabella. “Famous Rembrandt Paintings – 10 Masterpieces You Should Know.” Art in Context, November 8, 2021. https://artincontext.org/famous-rembrandt-paintings/.

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