Rembrandt and His Crucifixion (1631)

Detail of Rembrandt's signature on the Cross from The Crucifixion (1631)

I can be very blind. Some time ago I added an analysis of Rembrandt’s Crucifixion  in which I showed that Rembrandt had portrayed himself as Christ not out of delusions of grandeur but based on Christianity’s most fundamental principles that:

- we are all made in the image of God 

- that God or a divine spark is inside each of us

- that anyone can become a Christ (Jesus and the saints are just models we can follow.)

In making that argument I tried to prove that Rembrandt had intentionally painted himself as Christ. I explained that in dwelling on Christ’s historical presence Establishment churches do their own religion a dis-service. They make it virtually impossible to imagine that you yourself can become Christ. Artists, on the other hand, have daily evidence that without that divine spark they could not produce their dazzling masterpieces. They amaze even themselves.  

What did I miss, then? The signature on the Cross. Rembrandt painted his signature as though carved into the wood of the Cross just below Christ's feet. Thus the Cross itself becomes Rembrandt's painting within the painting, a self-portrait of himself as Christ. His death symbolizes the completion of the creative struggle out of which he was born. In dying on the Cross, he complete his masterpiece: his own Crucifixion.

Reader Comments

I heard that Rembrandt painted his face in to show that we are all in one way or another responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, since it was our sins that Jesus had to die for, hence nailing him to the cross.  I don’t know if that’s why Rembrandt painted his face in or not.  But in regards to your comments on Christianity I have to respond because Christianity does not teach that we can all become “a Christ”, and that Jesus and the disciples are just models to follow.  There was only one Christ, Messiah, chosen One, Jesus.  Christianity teaches that Jesus was God in the flesh.  It therefore does not teach that we can all become God, but rather that we are to worship and love God in holiness and truth, and to love our fellow man. So you are right in saying the Church doesn’t teach that we can become gods, but they don’t teach that because it is nowhere in the Bible, and therefore nowhere in Christianity. All this to say, it is doubtful that Rembrandt would paint his face in for the reasons you gave-to show that he could be like God, because this reason would be in stark contrast to his own religious beliefs.  Artists have a gift and an amazing talent, all gifts are from God, but that doesn’t make a person a god because God gave them a gift!  On the contrary, a gift from God is something that is given to His glory, not that of our own. I think Rembrandt made this fundamental truth very clear in his paintings which highlight some of the most amazing scenes from the Bible.

Veronica
24 Sep 2013

I believe Rembrandt realized, with deep remorse, that it was his own sins that put Jesus on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty that we should have paid but could not. So Jesus died for us. But because of us, Jesus had to go to the cross, so Rembrandt puts his face there. All of our faces belong there. It was our sin that put Jesus there after all. What a beautiful illustration of Rembrandt’s love for his Savior.

Linda
18 Mar 2017

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