Rembrandt van Rijn: The story behind the Google Doodle

Google features a self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn in celebration of the Dutch artist's 407th birthday on Monday.

Google website
A self-portrait of Rembrandt van Rijn is featured on Google's homepage on July 15, 2013.

Two dark eyes peer out from delicately furrowed eyebrows, meeting the viewer’s gaze. Tufts of gray hair, subdued under a large cap, frame the face. Dashes of rouge on the man’s cheeks, chin, and nose provide the only hint of a bright color in the painting.

The face is Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Self-Portrait with beret and turned up collar,” painted by the artist in 1659. The unforgivingly lined face – with light wrinkles on its brow that fade into etched cheekbones – typifies the artist’s willingness to depict what he saw, rather than what he might have wished to see.

In celebration of Rembrandt’s 407th birthday, Google Doodle features the artist’s self-portrait on the search engine’s home page.

Rembrandt was born to a well-off Dutch family on July 15, 1606. In the early 1620s, Rembrandt studied at Leiden University in the Netherlands before he was apprenticed with one of the leading Dutch painters of the time, Pieter Lastman. By 1632, Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam and established his own studio.

The artist became known for his use of chiaroscuro – an Italian term for light and dark shading techniques ­– as well as his ability to add life-like characteristics to make his subjects come alive on canvas. “A painting is finished only when it has the shadows of a god,” the artist said.

The contrast between light and dark was also a motif in Rembrandt’s personal life. In 1642, the artist’s wife died, leaving him with one surviving son, Titus. Her death was followed by a tumultuous relationship with Titus’s nurse, before another woman, Rembrandt’s maid, became his lifelong companion in 1647.

During his lifetime, Rembrandt was also prone to live beyond his means, putting him in a strained cycle of debt.

In his 1659 self-portrait, Rembrandt does not shy away from realistically depicting himself. In contrast to his earlier self-portraits, Rembrandt seems more worn and wrinkled, and his stare hardened.

“Life etches itself into our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses,” Rembrandt said. A glance at Monday’s Google Doodle tells part of the artist's story, struggle, and legacy.  

Rembrandt was buried in Westerkerk, Holland after his death on Oct. 4, 1669. The artist, who distinguished himself from his contemporaries by his deft brushstrokes and attention to detail, lies in an unmarked grave. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.