I love languages, and you might remember that I’ve been learning Dutch. As part of my studies, I often listen to meditaties — meditations — in Dutch. One particular favorite series comes from Loes van Dokkum. During each of her meditations, she rings a small bell and then says, “Dit is jouw slaaptijd” — meaning this is your time for sleep. She has a soft, soothing voice, and I look forward to hearing these words each time I listen to one of her meditations.
Learning Dutch has also led me to read more about Rembrandt van Rijn, probably the most famous painter from the Dutch “Golden Age”. I won’t provide a lot of biographical info here, just a short note about him and his wife, Saskia:
After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.
Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, came from a patrician family in Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland; her father served as the town’s burgomaster. Hendrik van Uylenburgh, Saskia’s cousin, was a painter and flourishing art dealer in Amsterdam. After moving to Amsterdam Rembrandt invested in Van Uylenburgh’s business and came to live in the art dealer’s house. The promising young painter must have met Saskia soon thereafter. They married in 1634, a year after their betrothal, and were together until her death in 1642. The couple had four children, but only Titus, born in 1641, survived infancy.
Rembrandt’s many drawings, etchings, and paintings of Saskia have left us with varied depictions of her personality, including her warmth and tenderness, but also a certain aloofness; her zest for life, but also the debilitating illness that frequently weakened her after the mid-1630s.
From: The National Gallery of Art
My drawing lesson today included a look at Saskia Asleep, two studies Rembrandt made of his wife. The lesson was — as with the earlier lesson about Delacroix — to notice the loose lines and the more controlled lines the artist made in this sketch. What’s different here, though, is that Rembrandt enjoyed sketching with a brush, possibly using ink for quick drawings like this.
My assignment was to pick up a brush and trace over the lines Rembrandt made. I used a sienna for one drawing, then changed to blue for another. Instead of ink, I choose to work with my Cotman watercolors.
I enjoyed this exercise. I felt as though I were there, watching Saskia sleep. The loose, flowing lines have a gentle, relaxing feeling, and as always, it was interesting to see how even a very small line can become very expressive. Look closely at the eyes. They’re only fine lines.
Part of the exercise included noticing where the lines were loose and where they were more carefully controlled. Another aspect was to look at where and how Rembrandt used shadows to turn these lines into the form of his sleeping wife.
It was a good exercise, and it helped me to ease back into art following our very exhausting trip to Tennessee and back. Yes, it was a very long drive, so curling up in bed and resting has been high on my list of things to do over the last couple of days.
Now, just as I enjoy listening to Loes van Dokkum as I fall asleep, I can also close my eyes and remember how peaceful and calm I felt as I watched Saskia sleeping through the eyes of her loving husband.