Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
- Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
- Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves: 'The Three Crosses' (B., Holl. 78; H. 270; BB. 53-A)
- Drypoint with engraving
Erik Hinterding, Ger Luijten and Martin Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the Printmaker, London, 2000, pp. 297-304
Rembrandt's The Three Crosses rivals the impact of a painting through its subject matter and grand scale. It is often singled out as the masterpiece of his printed oeuvre.
Executed almost exclusively in drypoint, the work displays Rembrandt's sensitivity and dexterity to the medium. Realising the fragility of the drypoint technique, he knowingly printed a small edition which increased the rarity of each impression pulled. The printing plate was worked with enormous care and Rembrandt experimented with different inking effects to achieve different tonalities.
He created extraordinary results through the single use of this medium, with the drypoint lines creating an overall rich, velvety effect, for which this print is renowned. The sophisticated spectrum of tones and volumes in the composition was unparalleled at the time.
The fourth state (of five) is one of the most exciting states of this subject. This particular state differs drastically to the previous three states and was even thought to be a different plate until late in the eighteenth century. Rembrandt's use of a dense network of lines and sparser use of light imbues the present impression with a more dramatic and imposing atmosphere, as well as diverting attention from the remains of previous states.
Numerous bystanders on Golgotha were replaced with other figures and Rembrandt's use of sharp and powerful diagonal lines made Christ the focal point of the print by darkening the passages on the left and right, creating the illusion of two dark curtains drawing in on the figure of Christ. The headdress and pose of the rider in this fourth state - an added figure - are modelled after a medallion by Antonio Pisanello (fig. 1). This rider is also similar to the figure of the protagonist in Rembrandt's painting, Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1661) which indicates that the fourth state of The Three Crosses was produced in around 1661.
As well as illustrating the virtuosity of Rembrandt's technical skills, the work also demonstrates his ability to capture emotional intensity in his subjects. Here, he chose to illustrate the moment of Christ just before his death on the cross, capturing his physical anguish and pain through the expression on his face.