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Christ Preaching (La Petite Tombe)

circa 1652
17th century
15.5 cm x 20.6 cm (6 1/8 in. x 8 1/8 in.)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (aka Rembrandt) (Leiden, The Netherlands, 1606 - 1669, Amsterdam) Primary

Object Type: print
Artist Nationality: Europe, Dutch
Medium and Support: Etching, drypoint and burin on Japanese paper
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of the Still Water Foundation, The Dean of the College of Fine Arts, and the Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1995
Accession Number: 1995.46

Christ Preaching is one of Rembrandt’s most famous and beautiful etchings. Its traditional title, La Petite Tombe, refers to the pedestal beneath Christ—a “little tomb”—but derives from a misunderstanding of an early reference to Pieter de la Tombe, for whom Rembrandt probably created the print. The scene conflates the events in Matthew 19, the culmination of Christ’s ministry, in which he explains the sanctity of marriage, orders his disciples to “let the children come to me,” and describes the virtue of poverty. The composition, conceived in light of works by Raphael, is unusually explicit in structure. Christ’s alignment with its axes and his gesture, arms upraised, hands oversized, effectively prefigure the Crucifixion. At the same time, this rigor and this content are relieved by wonderfully observed human incidents, from the unmoved Pharisees to the children, one dumb and led by the hand, another oblivious as he draws with a finger. All are subjected to a mysterious shadow that fuses the theological and human meanings of the scene. These meanings emerge in any impression, but no more than a handful so thoroughly express the artist’s aesthetic intention. With the work in drypoint vivid, a veil of ink tone unifying the surface, and a slightly translucent Japanese paper imparting a faint glow, this would have been among the very first printed by Rembrandt himself.

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