10 things you might not know about Rembrandt & Velázquez



1. Rembrandt and Velázquez are the two greatest 17th century masters in their respective countries

One came from the Protestant Netherlands, the other from Catholic Spain. The Rijksmuseum and the Museo Nacional del Prado are bringing these masters together for the first time.

1 Velázquez, Self-Portrait, c. 1640. Valencia, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos

2. The 17th century was a period of exceptional artistic vitality in both countries

Tensions between the Netherlands and Spain were running high in the 17th century due to the Eighty Years’ War, in which the Low Countries revolted against Spanish rule. Even so, the arts in both countries flourished, culminating in the rise of two of the greatest painters of all time: Rembrandt and Velázquez.

2 Jan Asselijn, The Threatened Swan, c. 1650. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

3. The two great artists never met

Though they lived at the same time, these two great artists never got to see each other’s work – not a single painting. It is likely that Rembrandt never even knew of Velázquez’s existence.

3 Rembrandt, Self-Portrait with Baret and Golden Chain, 1654. Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister

4. Nevertheless, their work sometimes shows striking similarities

Both artists employ the same subtle contrast between light and dark, while the palette of colours they used was almost identical. Above all, both men excelled in their exemplary use of technique, combined with an unfailing instinct for when to relinquish control. The portraits painted by both Rembrandt and Velázquez are incredibly lifelike; it’s as if the people portrayed might move at any moment. They appear to be poised on the fine line between stillness and the desire to break out of their frame.

4 Rembrandt, Isaac and Rebecca, known as The Jewish Bride, c. 1665. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. on loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest)

5. Both artists were major innovators

Both Velázquez and Rembrandt broke with the artistic conventions of their age. They were innovators, not content to simply build on an Italian tradition which set the artistic standard in Europe at the time by looking to classical antiquity.

5 Pieter Saenredam, Interior of the St Odulphuskerk in Assendelft, 1649. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. on loan from the City of Amsterdam (A. van der Hoop Bequest)

6. The exhibition also features Rembrandt and Velázquez’s contemporaries

The exhibition centres on the work of Rembrandt and Velázquez, but also features masterpieces by other great masters such as Murillo, Vermeer, Zurbarán, Hals and Ribera.

6 Johannes Vermeer, View of Houses in Delft, known as The Little Street, c. 1658. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, gift of H.W.A. Deterding, London

7. Many paintings are making their Dutch debut

A number of the works on view in the Rijkmuseum as part of this exhibition are extra special: Finis Gloriae Mundi by Juan de Valdés Leal (Hospital de la Caridad, Seville) and The Judgment of William the Good by Nicolaes van Galen (Hasselt Town Hall), for example, are works which have never or hardly ever been loaned to an exhibition before.


8. Dutch and Spanish works are exhibited in pairs

The works in the exhibition address themes such as faith, wealth, power and love. A total of over sixty paintings by Spanish and Dutch masters are being shown in pairs.


9. The exhibition features 42 loans from 7 countries

Most of the works on loan, 14 to be precise, come from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. The exhibition features 17 works from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection.


10. Two kings opened the exhibition

The exhibition is a unique collaboration between two of Europe’s foremost museums: the Rijksmuseum and the Museo Nacional del Prado. To underline this fact, it was opened by both the King of the Netherlands and the King of Spain.

Rembrandt-Velázquez. Dutch & Spanish Masters can be seen from 11 October 2019 to 19 January 2020 in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum.