Curator‘s Comments

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.

Because the plate was thin, 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.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. Dutch, 1606–1669

The Three Crosses, 1660

Drypoint and burin on cream laid paper, fourth state of four

Gift of The Studio Club and Friends

ID Number: SC 1911:2-1