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Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, an etching

 

Height: 213.000 mm
Width: 279.000 mm

PD 1868-8-22-678 (Hind 205; Bartsch 212)

Prints and Drawings

    Rembrandt van Rijn, The Three Trees, an etching

    The Netherlands
    Dated AD 1643

    This atmospheric print is widely regarded as Rembrandt's greatest as well as his most elaborate landscape etching. His other landscape prints often appear to have been sketched directly from nature, and concentrate informally on a single prominent feature, such as a cottage, a tree-stump or a bridge, set against a featureless sky. Here the composition is more formal. The three trees dominate the design, but they are buffeted by gusts of wind and rise in a burst of sunlight against a sky of rapidly moving clouds.

    On close inspection, the view is filled with an unusual amount of incident. On the left, a standing fisherman watches the end of his line, while his wife waits with a lunch basket. Above them, cows, horses and people are scattered in the sunlit fields, beyond which the towers of the distant city almost vanish in a squall of rain. On the near right, two lovers can be glimpsed in the undergrowth. A wagon on the brow of the hill approaches a seated artist, who sketches the view that is out of our sight. Behind the trunks of the three trees, some cottages shelter in the hollow of the hill, while far above them a flock of birds soars high in the sky.

    The image is difficult to interpret, but the idea that the trees symbolize the Three Crosses, as is sometimes suggested, is impossible to prove. That man is dominated by the overwhelming force of nature seems clear, but whether this aspect of the print should be linked to contemporary Calvinist theology or Spinoza's pantheism is far from clear.

    Unusually for Rembrandt, no trial impressions survive to record his progress with the plate. His signature and the date are barely visible.

    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)

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