Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Crosses, a drypoint

The Netherlands
Signed and dated AD 1653 (state III) and state IV

The crucifixion of Christ between the two thieves

Rembrandt often retouched his etched plates with a drypoint needle or engraver's burin, but in the 1650s his greatest prints are worked entirely in drypoint. This technique gave him more immediate control of his drawing on the copper plate, but its surface wore away during printing far more quickly than with an etching. Rembrandt clearly regarded state III of the plate as finished, for he signed and dated it at the bottom.

He has illustrated the moment of Christ's death, when 'there was darkness over the whole land' (Mark 15:33). A flood of supernatural light illuminates the ground immediately around the cross. Dark shadows fill the four corners, and the two figures hurrying away in the foreground are silhouetted against the brightness. On Christ's right, the centurion kneels, his arms expressing the words 'Truly, this man was the Son of God!'.

When the plate had worn down through printing, Rembrandt drastically reworked the surface to produce a new work of art. Almost all the figures, except for those on the crosses, have been scraped or burnished away. New vertical lines are scored through the sky, creating curtains of dramatic darkness and casting one crucified thief into shadow. In state III we experienced the trauma of the scene through the responses of the bystanders. State IV concentrates our attention on the pathetic figure of Christ, while the world is plunged into pitch darkness. The horseman on the left is based on a medal by the Renaissance master, Pisanello.

This is one of Rembrandt's most formidable masterpieces as a printmaker. The extraordinary painterly effects of the fourth state must have astonished his contemporaries, and has rarely been rivalled since.

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Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Crosses, a drypoint

The Three Crosses (state III)

  • The Three Crosses (state IV)

    The Three Crosses (state IV)


More information


E. Hinterding, G. Luijten and M. Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the printmaker (London, The British Museum Press in association with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2000)

C. White, Rembrandt as an etcher: a stud, 2nd edition (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1999)


Height: 387.000 mm (1973-U-941 state III)
Width: 452.000 mm (1973-U-941 state III)
Height: 387.000 mm (1973-U-941 state III)
Width: 452.000 mm (1973-U-941 state III)

Museum number

PD 1973-U-941 (Hind 270; Bartsch 78);PD 1973-U-942


Bequeathed by C.M. Cracherode


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