"The Artist's Mother Seated at a Table" is one of three Rembrandt etchings that have
been donated to Illinois Wesleyan University.
Donated Rembrandt Etchings Illustrate Skill, Genius of Artist
November 3, 2005
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – In memory of the late Emery and Anita Rhodes of Bloomington, their
three children, Emery jr., Reilly and Benjamin Rhodes, class of 1969, who is director
of development at Illinois Wesleyan University, have recently presented the university
with three 17th century etchings by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669).
The nearly 400-year-old original etchings, which consist of “The Artist’s Mother Seated
at a Table,” “The Virgin with Instruments of the Passion” and “Self-Portrait Leaning
on a Stone Sill,” will be permanently displayed in museum-quality hangings in The
Ames Library (1 Ames Plaza, Bloomington). The etchings are open for public viewing
in the northeast corner of the fourth floor of The Ames Library.
Widely recognized as the greatest of the 17th century Dutch Old Masters, Rembrandt
began his artistry at the age of 14, when he took up study with a local master, Jacob
van Swanenburch, near his home of Leiden, The Netherlands. He continued his studies
in Amsterdam and just six months later, after mastering everything he had been taught,
Rembrandt returned to Leiden. He was so highly regarded that although he was barely
22 years old, he took his first pupils.
Though he used traditional etching techniques, Rembrandt also experimented with ink
and tone, bringing the craft of etching to a new level of excellence. Art historians
consider his collection of over 290 plates revolutionary for the 17th century.
The technique used by Rembrandt to create these pieces is called Intaglio etching,
a type of printing in which the lines in a copper or zinc metal plate are etched (or
“bitten”) by acid. This technique was first used in the 14th century as a way to decorate
armor, but was later used to create individual pieces of art, like those of Rembrandt.
In order to create an etching, the artist first covered the polished surface of a
metal plate with a thin layer of ‘ground,’ a mixture of waxes, gums and resins. Then,
he drew through this layer with a metal point called the etching needle, exposing
the metal underneath the ground. Finally, the plate was immersed in a bath of acid,
which bit into the plate where it was exposed. The strength of the acid used and
the length of time the plate is left in the bath determined the depth of the lines
on the plate and, as a result, the darkness of a print made from the plate.
Rembrandt’s skill with etching was such that other artists questioned whether he had
developed a secret technique for producing the works. This was not the case: the
quality of Rembrandt’s work did not depend on a special artistic technique, but rather
on his unmatched talent.
Despite his commercial success as an artist, Rembrandt’s personal life was colored
by tragedy. Bankrupted by an extravagant lifestyle, Rembrandt and his wife, Saskia
van Uylenburgh, had four children, only one of whom survived childhood. His wife
passed away just a year after the birth of their last child.
However, Rembrandt’s artistry flourished as he expressed his misfortune through his
work. Using friend, family and even himself as models, Rembrandt continued to paint,
draw and etch prolifically until his death in 1669.
It is believed that Rembrandt created more than 600 paintings as well as an enormous
number of drawings and etchings that were internationally renowned even during his
lifetime. All three of the works donated by the Rhodes family illustrate Rembrandt’s
excellent skill as an artist.
Contact: Rebecca Welzenbach and Meg Dubuque, (309) 556-3181
Read more about the Rhodes family donation of the etchings.