If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 9

Lesson 4: Dutch Republic

Rembrandt, Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses.

Met curator Nadine Orenstein on universal emotion in Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses, 1653.

The Three Crosses, Rembrandt's finest works in any medium, represents the culmination of his virtuosity as a printmaker. He drew on the copperplate entirely in drypoint which allowed him to fully exploit the velvety areas of burr raised by the drypoint tool as it cut into the copper. When Rembrandt created this impression, he deliberately left ink on the printing plate; it lightly veils the figures standing at the foot of the cross on the right; a thicker layer almost completely covers the bushes along the right edge. By creatively inking the copperplate, Rembrandt in a certain sense painted each impression. Each time he printed the copperplate he created a unique work. He further varied impressions by printing them on different supports; this impression is printed on vellum, which infuses the composition with a warm light. Vellum, less absorbent than paper, holds ink on the surface, softening lines and enhancing the richness of entire effect.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

Are you an educator? Here's a related lesson plan. For additional educator resources from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, try this and also visit Find an Educator Resource.

Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

As a Jewish girl growing up in New York, it’s interesting that my favorite work of art is a crucifixion scene. For me a great work of art is something that goes beyond the image that it’s depicting. What Rembrandt does, that I find rather amazing is, he really sums up so much about humanity. It’s a familiar story that expresses universal emotion. Rembrandt looked at people all around him, all the time, was always sketching. How people stand; how people faint; how people move their head as opposed to the rest of their body. That’s what he introduces into a biblical subject. Rembrandt is able, in just a few lines, to show emotion in its most universal and simplest forms. From simple figures, bathed in very bright light--he shows them just in outline-- to very detailed figures in the darkness. He’s playing with this alternation of dark and light. Rembrandt printed it on vellum, a material that keeps the ink hovering on the surface and that really beefs up the richness. And Rembrandt is making changes right on the surface. First he put Christ’s foot straight down then he put this head on top. When I look at it I see the artist at work. And every single impression around the world and there’s only maybe fifteen of these in existence looks slightly different, so he’s really making a painted print. Whenever I look at it I’m always surprised at how small it is cause Rembrandt packs in so much and when you really zero in you can see these beautiful passages of lines that could be artworks on their own. After looking at this for a while, I go out on the street and I look at people in a whole different way because you see them in their most elemental forms and how they express themselves. I can see for a little while like Rembrandt looks at people on the street.