The First Mrs. van Rijn

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 😆

10 thoughts on “The First Mrs. van Rijn

  1. H Niyazi says:

    Great post Claudia! I It’s always interesting to hear about the real people that populate these great artists lives, and give them so much inspiration!

    Kind Regards
    H

  2. Fred says:

    That’s the Rembrandt bobblehead!

  3. even great artists can’t be serious all the time-or turn everything into gold- he was probably just having fun doing a caricature

  4. I do wonder about his ‘Saskia wearing a veil’ that you show.

    I wonder if it, like his ‘Night Watch’, A.K.A ‘The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq’ is really that dark or if there’s tons of other detail hidden under dark varnish and centuries of city grime.

  5. M says:

    Hi! I just discovered your blog! I was researching about more information for about Mark Twain’s discussion of the “Venus of Urbino,” and a post from your archives popped up.

    Anyhow, I thought that you might be interested in seeing Simon Schama’s documentary on Rembrandt (from his “Power of Art” BBC series). Have you seen it already? Schama discusses Saskia in depth and shows several of her portraits by Rembrandt (including some of the ones that you have posted here). Schama also analyzes a portrait of Saskia that Rembrandt painted after her death (see here). This painting is especially interesting to me, since he shows Saskia in profile – she seems so much more static than her earlier portraits. I guess that’s fitting, in a way, since Saskia was no longer alive.

    I look forward to reading your future posts!

    Best,
    Monica
    http://albertis-window.blogspot.com

    • artmodel says:

      Monica,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog! I apologize for the late appearance of your comment. It seems you got caught in the spam filter! I hadn’t checked my spam in several days. But I found your comment there and have “freed” it from Aksimet oblivion!

      I have seen much of the Simon Schama series, but I can’t recall having seen the Rembrandt part. I’m going to check it out. And that portrait of Saskia you linked to is interesting and, like you observed, quite different from the others. I almost used it in this post.

      Thank you so much for your comments, Monica. I hope you visit again!

      Claudia

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