The Three Trees

Rembrandt, 1643
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

For his largest and most important landscape etching, Rembrandt orchestrated a symphony of elements and effects. Sunlight breaks low over a ridge of the Haarlemmerdijk to the right and cuts through the three trees standing there. They and much of the foreground fall in strong shadow, accentuated in drypoint and burin. Our eyes are drawn over the countryside to the water in the distance (the IJ and the Zuiderzee), and up to the towering, roiling cloud looming over the city to the left. Diagonal ruled lines to the left evoke a departing shower. The improving weather and emerging light support a grander message of Redemption, that Rembrandt spells out with the row of three trees, referring to the three crosses of the Crucifixion. It applies to his world, in his time: a sweeping view of his city and its surrounding countryside, populated by a range of people and activities, including a pair of lovers, barely discernible in the dark foreground. Rembrandt likely conceived this print soon after he started making landscape etchings of topographical views around Amsterdam, when he was also busy with the similarly ambitious and complex Night Watch.

David de Witt, Senior Curator, The Rembrandt House Museum, Amsterdam

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