Christ in The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)

Rembrandt (1606 -1669)

Art facts:

  • Artist: Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
  • Currently, on March 18, 1990, was stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
  • Original size: 62.9” х 50.3” inches
  • This work is linked to Matthew 8:24-26


About the Artist:

            Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn was born the fourth child to father, Harmen Gerritszoon Rijn, and mother, Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuytbrouck, in Leyden, The Netherlands, on July 15, 1606. His father was a miller, and his mother came from a family of bakers who made Rembrandt’s desire for art uncommon, as most artists during that time came from descendants of craftsmen or artists.  As a young man, Rembrandt did not follow his parents’ footsteps but instead developed an attraction to art. He began his studies in 1620 with Jacob van Swanenburgh, and for three years, Jacob taught Rembrandt the basics in the art form and what was necessary to know for the profession. Swanenburgh was known for his architectural pieces and scenes from hell and the underworld, requiring a tremendous ability to paint fire and the reflections it casts, demanding a specialized skill. This influence may have been the spark in Rembrandt’s career and his obsession with light and dark effects.

            Pieter Lastman was Rembrandt’s second instructor whom he stayed in Amsterdam with for six months. Lastman was well known as a history painter, a genre that required attention from every skill from landscape to architecture, from still life to drapery, from animals to the human figure, in a wide range of postures, expressions and costumes” which were the demands of history painting. In the 17th century, it was considered the highest position of all genres.  With the artistry and skill passed down to him from his teacher Rembrandt was ready to create art. Little did he know that his name would pass down as one to be remembered. In 1627 Rembrandt opened his first art studio selling historical paintings and portraits, for which he was best known. Because of his attention to detail, he soon became a popular name and sought after artist.


About the Painting:

 Not many years later, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam to establish himself as an artist of history and portraits, fully intending to focus on these two areas. A few years later, in 1633, Rembrandt painted his first and only seascape that, when compared to his other works, is visibly his most dramatic piece. One look at this painting and one is instantly drawn into the scene. Rembrandt’s remarkable use of lighting and angles creates extensive interest for the observer and a feeling of being transported back in time to that moment. The eye is instantly drawn towards the light at the front of the boat, where men are desperately trying to keep it afloat. There is a glimmer of hope with the sun creeping out and turning the clouds a shade of yellow, signifying that the storm is meant to pass. Following down towards the boat’s stern, a small huddle of men are seen sitting around Christ, who is calm and unfazed by the crashing waves, pictured with a halo of light around his head, offering peace amid the storm.

            Rembrandt’s meaning behind the painting could have been to illustrate “the power of nature and man’s helplessness in its force. Among the twelve disciples were many fishermen and sailors; however, here they are powerless and exposed to elements. They can only hang on.” As one gazes through the painting, the eye can linger, studying each character painted with intentional detail to invoke “prolonged, empathetic looking.” Looking closely at the work of art, 14 figures can be seen. There are 12 apostles, Jesus, and what scholars believe to be a self-portrait of Rembrandt himself inserted into the scene, and only one of the men looking directly at the observer and holding onto his cap. By inserting himself into this historical scene, it was his way of affirming the event to be accurate and inspiring faith into Biblical text to those who saw it.

            Rembrandt’s remarkable talent of immersing the observer into a scene is highlighted throughout the painting of ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,’ proving why many adored his work and why he became so popular at such a young age.  The painting was loved by many and passed down and bought by many collectors until finally landing at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. The painting was originally placed across the room entrance, and as one entered the gallery room, this was the first thing they experienced. It created a theatrical effect when all around the room was filled with portrait paintings, making the seascape painting stand out.  It was not a small painting either, measuring 160 X 128 CM, oil painted on canvas, making a statement with size and scene. On March 18, 1990, two robbers dressed as police officers and claiming to be responding to an emergency call, rushed into the museum and stole the painting along with other items amounting to five hundred million dollars. The empty picture frame hangs to this day, longing for the day to be returned.