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Rembrandt van Rijn
The three crosses
Drypoint printed on vellum, 1653
Founder's Bequest 1816
The delicate line of drypoint used to draw this subject wore quickly under the pressure of the printing press. Not long after printing early impressions like this one, Rembrandt reworked the plate, creating a quite different print, as seen in the impression that follows.
Here the subject is the moment of Christ's death, with the 'good' thief to his right lit by heavenly light, which also illuminates the group below, including Christ's mother and the standing figure of St John. To the left, the centurion has dismounted from his horse and kneels before the cross: 'And it was about the sixth hour; and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost. Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, "Certainly this was a righteous man." And all the people that came together to that site, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts and returned.' (Luke 23: 44-8)
This is the only known impression of this state printed on vellum (calfskin) or goatskin rather than paper. The ink does not always print so well on the non-absorbent surface of the calfskin, but the blurred effect can create its own sense of atmosphere and drama. This is true here of the group of figures on the left responsible for Christ's death, who seem thrown into a blurred and fearful confusion at the enormity of their deeds. A large number of impressions of this state were printed on European paper before Rembrandt reworked the plate to create a new composition.