Sometimes when I write posts about the female subjects of famous art, I find myself disappointed in the lack of information about these women.To be fair, many of them are given substantial biographical treatment. But others not so much. Rembrandt’s first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, is one of those shortchanged women.
What we do know is that Saskia was born in 1612 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch province of Friesland, the youngest of eight children. Their father was a wealthy lawyer, but both he and his wife died by 1624. Orphaned at the age of twelve, young Saskia was raised by her older sister Hiskje. Her cousin, Hendrick van Uylenburgh, was an Amsterdam art dealer with a successful gallery, and it was through him that Saskia met Rembrandt. They married in 1634 when Saskia was 22 years old.
One of Rembrandt’s earliest works of Saskia is this silverpoint drawing from 1633 titled Saskia In A Straw Hat. His astonishing ability to to capture gesture and character, with such proficiency and ease, is evident in this wonderful piece. In it, you can see the gift of observation that made Rembrandt such a brilliant portraitist:
Rembrandt’s portrait of Saskia painted at the time of their marriage:
Life was good for Rembrandt during these years. He enjoyed a successful, lucrative career as a much in demand portrait painter. He had pupils, clients, Hendrick as his art dealer and Saskia as his lovely young wife and model.
Saskia gave birth to three children, all of whom died in early infancy. Their fourth attempt at having a child gave them a boy, named Titus, born in 1641. He would be the only surviving child of Rembrandt and Saskia. Tragically, Saskia died just a year after Titus was born, probably of tuberculosis.
Saskia With a Child, pen sketch, 1636:
Portrait of Saskia from 1643, oil on panel:
Rembrandt did not handle his post-Saskia life very well; mismanaged finances, threatened inheritances, a scorned wet- nurse who sued him for “breach of promise”, and an affair with his housekeeper who would become his second wife. But that’s all drama for another blog post! This one’s for Saskia. I still feel that I don’t really know her, except through Rembrandt’s portrayals. But I suppose if you wanted your life visually immortalized, in the absence of other information, Rembrandt is the guy you’d choose to do it, even if he pulls some crazy scale weirdness like this drawing, Self-Portrait with Saskia. I know Rembrandt is a master and everything, but what the hell is going on here?? Either Saskia was ten feet behind him or Rembrandt had a really giant head 😆