Why You Shouldn’t Miss the ROM’s In the Age of the Rembrandt Exhibit

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The ROM's must-see exhibit, In the Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is running from June 1 to September 15, 2019.

There’s always something exciting happening at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). From dinosaur bones to rare Chinese sculptures and Indigenous art and culture, there are more than 13 million objects in 40 galleries and exhibition spaces to explore at Canada’s largest and most-visited museum.

This summer, the ROM’s must-see special exhibition is In the Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It’s an extraordinary collection of 70 paintings from the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, featuring illustrious artists such as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. Before your walk through this rare exhibition, absorb these fascinating facts about the Dutch Golden Age and its artists.

In the Age of Rembrandt features incredible 70 paintings | Photo by Tina Weltz

Experience a Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibition

Keep your ticket as a memento – you’re about to experience something special. Such a high-profile exhibition on Dutch Golden Age painting hasn’t been shown in Toronto for over 50 years. It’s also the first time these paintings, comprised of three collections, have been presented together as a curated exhibition, and the ROM is the exclusive Canadian venue. Adding to the excitement, this year is the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death, and galleries worldwide are celebrating “The Year of Rembrandt” with commemorative exhibitions. As a ticketholder, consider yourself part of the party!
Considered one of Rembrandts’ finest pieces and in remarkable condition, the Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh showcases the artist’s exceptional technical skill | Photo by Tina Weltz

The Dutch Golden Age was a Big Deal

After gaining independence from Spain in 1585, the Netherlands became an economic superpower and a hub for global trade. Dubbed the “Golden Age,” the booming economy of the era gave rise to a wealthy Dutch middle class with a voracious appetite for art, fueling what became one of the most significant periods of artistic production in history. During this time, Dutch artists experimented with perspectives, optics, and science, depicting ordinary people, landscapes and secular subjects as opposed to the more common religious and mythological scenes of the time. So you’re not just enjoying incredible art – you’re also appreciating a milestone in art history.
The exhibit will run until September 15, 2019 | Photo by Tina Weltz

Get a Glimpse of 17th-Century A-Listers

Rembrandt had a winning strategy for breaking into Amsterdam’s competitive art market: he painted the upper crust of Dutch society. He became a success among wealthy citizens who commissioned spectacular portraitures. Perusing this exhibition, get a glimpse at the faces of 17th-century Dutch “A-listers,” some of whom may have wanted to feel like royals by having Rembrandt immortalize their image on canvas.

See the Work of Two Famed Female Artists

The Dutch Golden Age, and the changes in society it brought, created the opportunity for women to become artists in their own right. Most didn’t earn anything from their artwork, but a few gained recognition and fame. Two prominent women painters are featured among the works on display in In the Age of Rembrandt: Rachel Ruysch and Maria Schalcken. Esteemed for her exquisite floral still lifes, Ruysch had a colourful career into her 80s, producing over 250 works and out-earning many of her male contemporaries. Ruysch had a long, successful career, earning more for her paintings than most of her male counterparts.
Rachel Ruysch took floral painting to another level, clearly evident in her Still Life with Flowers.
You can also marvel at Maria Schalcken’s The Artist at Work in Her Studio at this exhibition. Remarkably, only two of Schalcken’s paintings are known today, one of which was only recently discovered during a 1998 restoration that revealed her overpainted signature.
One of only two works known today by Maria Schalcken, her self-portrait The artist at Work in Her Studio was overpainted at the beginning of the 19th century.

Hunt for Comical Clues

There are more than lovely landscapes and striking portraits to admire. Celebrated artist Jan Steen was a bit of a jokester: look for comical clues painted into his portrayals of Dutch homes and taverns. In An Elegant Company Playing Cards, the woman in the foreground’s sly expression and the card she holds under the table signals that she’s conned the male guest in the card game. The truth revealed, you may just LOL.
An Elegant Company Playing Cards, one of the many portraits in which Jan Steen’s expresses the comical side of life in the 1660’s

Witness Rare Rembrandts

Only three sets of full-length portraits by Rembrandt are known today, and one set is showcased in this exhibition: Reverend Johannes Elison and Maria Bockenolle (Wife of Johannes Elison). Commissioned by the pair’s son and speaking to his social ambitions, these types of full-length portraits were costly and intensive, and therefore typically made only for blue bloods and the very rich.
Portraits typically reserved for royalty and nobility, The Reverend Johannes Ellison and his wife Maria Bockenolle were a key factor in Rembrandts’ growing reputation.