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Grenzen im Licht. Über Licht und Schatten in den Zeichnungen von Rembrandt

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

This article presents a stylistic study on light and shadow as used in Rembrandt's drawings in which his various techniques are categorised and individually discussed. The analysis of almost 200 drawings helps to gain insight in the drawing method of Rembrandt and can therefore possibly be of assistance in questions regarding the attribution of his drawings.

In Dutch art theory of the time one finds much practical advice on how a draughtsman could render light and shadow and how the desired tonal proportions could be achieved to attain a convincing pictorial illusion. A comparison with these sources demonstrates that though Rembrandt scarcely deviated from the customary studio practices, he often managed to achieve a large range of tones with only a single colour. He created the necessary degrees of tone by means of an utmost effective use of light and dark lines and areas. Notable is his consistency in rendering the direction of the fall of light within each composition and his precise observation of the various manifestations of light, such as incident and reflected light or the diversity of shadow tones. Both, the choice of medium and the use hereof is quite varied and Rembrandt often limited himself to a few precise accents with which he could suggest plasticity, texture and space.

All of the characteristics of Rembrandt's techniques as mentioned in this study were employed to create spatial boundaries and thereby to aid in the legibility of the composition. By the Dutch sources of the time this means of construction was termed houding [in the sense of 'relative placement']. The goal was to achieve a convincing suggestion of spatial relationships through the use of various tones. The individual compositional elements in Rembrandt's drawings are always distinguishable, despite their execution being rather calligraphic at times. A quick comparison with the work of his students and followers demonstrates their less skilled use of houding and therefore that the refined creation of boundaries between forms is a characteristic stylistic element of Rembrandt's drawing method.


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