Rembrandt in detail

Observation of everyday life

Rembrandt was interested in capturing the world around him without prejudice. His drawings record the ordinary people, places and things he would have seen every day in Amsterdam as well as more unusual incidents such as a young woman being hung at the gallows. All are represented candidly, without idealization.

In May 1664, a Danish girl, Elsje Christiaens, was condemned to death for murdering her landlady. Rembrandt recorded this event in three drawings, two of which are in the exhibition including ‘Elsje Christiaens hanging on the Gibbet’ (below).

The 18-year-old is shown hanging on a gibbet with an axe beside her, the murder weapon she used to kill her landlady. Rembrandt treats this gruesome subject with sensitivity, showing Elsje with her eyes closed and body limp.

Rembrandt, 'Elsje Christiaens hanging on the Gibbet', 1664. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence
Rembrandt, 'Elsje Christiaens hanging on the Gibbet', 1664. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H.O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, 1929. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence
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