REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Supper at Emmaus

Oil on canvas, 68 x 65 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Catalogue number: Bredius 578.

It is to the biblical pictures that we must turn to see Rembrandt's greatest contribution during his mature period. The deepening of the religious content of these works is connected with some shift in his choice of biblical subjects. During the 1630s Rembrandt had used the Bible as a source for dramatic motifs; for example, the Blinding of Samson. In his middle phase he turned to more calm and intimate subjects, particularly episodes from the life of the Holy Family. At the beginning of the mature period the figure of Christ becomes pre-eminent. Scenes taken from the life of Jesus, quiet episodes of his youth, his preaching and the deeds of his early manhood, and his resurrection form the main subject of the biblical representations.

The emergence of the mature style is marked by works like Christ at Emmaus, in which Rembrandt expresses the character of Jesus without any concrete action or noisy stage-like effect. A moment before, he appeared to be merely a man about to break bread with two pilgrims. Now he is the resurrected Christ whose tender presence fills the room. Without any commotion, Rembrandt convinces us that we are witnessing the moment when the eyes of the pilgrims are no longer 'held, that they should not recognize him'. A great calm and a magic atmosphere prevail, and we are drawn into the sacred mood of the scene by the most sensitive suggestion of the emotion of the figures, as well as by the mystery of light which envelops them. The monumental architectonic setting lends grandeur and structure to the composition, and the powerful emptiness of the architectural background is enlivened by the fluctuating, transparent chiaroscuro and the tender spiritual character of the light around Christ himself. A simple pathos and a mild, warm feeling emanate from his figure. Nothing could be farther from the conspicuous theatricality of the works of the thirties.

Rembrandt returned several times to the theme of the Supper at Emmaus, which explores the double nature of Christ, His humanity and His essential divinity. Rembrandt interpreted the theme in a different way each time; the composition of this version relies on Italian Renaissance examples and is one of the artist's most serenely classical masterpieces.