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

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem

Oil on panel, 58 x 46 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Catalogue number: Bredius 604.

After his initial training in his native town of Leiden, Rembrandt spent a short but crucially important period in the studio of the history painter Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. He then returned to Leiden and set up as an independent painter in 1625. He worked in the town for about six years until settling permanently in Amsterdam. Rembrandt's early work shows the powerful influence of Lastman's broad, colourful style, as can be seen, for example, in the Tobit and Anna of 1626.

This well-preserved painting is one of the finest works of Rembrandt's Leiden period. For many years it was incorrectly identified but it certainly shows Jeremiah; who had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, capital of Judah, by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah, chapters 32, 33), lamenting over the destruction of the city. In the distance on the left a man at the top of the steps holds clenched fists to his eyes: this is the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, who was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar. The prominent domed building in the background is probably Solomon's Temple.

Jeremiah's pose, his head supported by his hand, is a traditional attitude of melancholy: his elbow rests on a large book which is inscribed 'Bibel' on the edge of the pages, probably a much later addition to the painting. The book is presumably meant to be his own Book of Jeremiah or the Book of Lamentations. The lighting of the figure is particularly effective with the foreground and the right side of the prophet's face in shadow and his robe outlined against the rock. Rembrandt has used the blunt end of his brush to scratch details of the foliage, Jeremiah's beard and the fastenings of his tunic in the wet paint, a characteristic technique of his early years.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 19 minutes):
Thomas Tallis: The Lamentations of Jeremiah