religious; Crucifixion scene; Christ on the cross; Golgotha; biblical scene
This is a fourth state of four. As the third state of The Three Crosses began to wear, Rembrandt faced a dilemma: Should he discard the plate, try to strengthen the lines once again, or completely transform the composition? He chose the third option, with spectacular results.
Due to the thinness of the plate, Rembrandt was able to burnish down and rework significant areas, changing the focus of the work from the conversion of the centurion to the descent of darkness and ensuing chaos among the people following Christ’s death. New figures, such as the two mounted soldiers to the left of the cross and the re-drawn group, including St. John and Mary at the right, focus the viewer’s attention on the figure of Christ. The deep lines that define Christ’s body, strengthened by the artist, make the figure appear gaunt and emaciated, and the surrounding darkness highlights the tiny crown of light that appears around his head. While earlier versions of the composition focused on the conversion of the centurion, stressing the connection between Christ’s sacrifice and the salvation of mankind, the fourth state emphasizes the bleakness of Christ’s suffering and physical death.
Other label: Rembrandt created the first version of this print in drypoint, a fragile printing technique in which the lines cut into the metal plate wear down over time. When his original drypoint lines began to weaken, the artist altered his original composition. In doing so, he created many slightly different “states,” or versions, of this image. SCMA owns a fourth-state print.
In the dramatic fourth state of The Three Crosses, Rembrandt scraped away at the plate and redrew many figures. He cut deep, angled lines into the copper plate in the right third of the print, casting it into shadow. This effect draws the viewer’s attention back to the figure of Christ on the cross, emphasizing its sense of intense suffering.
Additional writing on this object can be found at
Paper + People the Cunningham Center Blog.
religion; Christianity; biblical