Sunday, November 3, 2013

Was Rembrandt a Mennonite?

Mennonite minister Cornelius Anslo and wife
My brother-in-law J. Lloyd Wert and wife Beverly recently returned from a tour of Anabaptist sites in the Netherlands and Switzerland led by Myron and Esther Augsburger. One of many fascinating topics covered was the extent of Rembrandt’s association with Mennonites in Holland.

This piqued my own interest in the subject and led me to a paper by Dr. Kenneth Edmonds presented at a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in Ede, Netherlands, in July 29, 2009.

Edmonds cites the Italian art critic Filippo Baldinucci in 1686 as stating explicitly that “The artist professed in those days the religion of the Menists (Mennonites).” Edmonds, however, doesn’t believe that Rembrandt ever officially joined the group but says recent research proves that Rembrandt had close ties with Amsterdam’s Waterlander Mennonite Community,  particularly through Hendrick Uylenburgh, a Mennonite art dealer who ran an artists’ studio in which Rembrandt worked from 1631 to 1635. 

Rembrandt actually lived in the Uylenburgh house for a time and  met his future wife Saskia there, according to Edmonds, who goes on to say that this led to his getting commissions to do portraits of many of the increasingly well-to-do Mennonites in the community. Rembrandt also purchased a home in 1639 that was next door to Uylenburgh’s.

There is good evidence from many sources that Rembrandt felt a strong kinship with Saskia’s faith but apparently never became an active church goer or a church member himself, as evidenced by his taking as his mistress the nanny who took care of his sons after his wife’s death. In 1649 he replaced his first mistress with a younger woman, not a Mennonite either, and whom he also did not marry, partly because according to the terms of the will doing so would have meant losing his life interest in the inheritance left to him by his wife.

What is clear from Edmond’s research is that over time Rembrandt developed a special interest in Biblical subjects as well as in themes of special importance to Anabaptists, like the Lord's Supper, the rite of feet washing and believers baptism.

Here's the link to Edmonds' well researched paper:
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