Rembrandt redefined : making the “global artist" in seventeenth-century Amsterdam
Rembrandt’s two dozen copies of Mughal paintings that he created between the years 1654 and 1660, remains an obscure collection of drawings within the artist’s extensive body of work. In the scholarship, these drawings are usually framed as his interest in costumes and gestures. This interpretation, however, does not fully take into account Rembrandt’s sensitivity towards cultural and religious tolerance, as exhibited in all aspects of his artistic practice. Prior to his Mughal drawings, Rembrandt already exhibited a curiosity for foreign peoples and places. As a resident of Amsterdam, the global epicenter of Europe, he took advantage of his cosmopolitan atmosphere by actively collecting objects from Asia and the New World brought in by the Dutch East India Company. His art, moreover, did not remain impervious to this dynamic and diverse environment, as evinced by the numerous drawings Rembrandt made to document the different sights and peoples that he encountered in the city. His Mughal copies, moreover, do not resemble the sketches that scholars consider as exhibiting the artist’s curiosity for Oriental attire and distinct body language; instead, they closely parallel the kinds of drawings he made after works of art he found visually appealing. Rembrandt experimented with different kinds of lines and contours to imitate and adapt the Mughal style to diversify his artistic repertoire. His thoughtful engagement reveals that Rembrandt viewed Mughal art style as legitimate forms he could utilize to develop new compositions, or even to challenge and correct existing pictorial traditions. Rembrandt’s Mughal drawings, rather than being an obscure collection, demonstrate instead his unique ability to craft works of art to be reflective of his rich, diverse environment. This strong artistic desire for pictorial experimentation, in addition to his sensitivity for acute narrative interpretation, coalesces to form a more unified portrait of Rembrandt as an empathetic, albeit ambitious, artist.