Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the most celebrated Dutch artists of all time, was a dynamic and prolific painter, printmaker, and draughtsman. His continual experimentation with subjects and techniques brought him fame throughout his career. Born and trained in Leiden, he opened a studio with his fellow artist Jan Lievens around 1624. Commissions from the court in The Hague allowed him to move to Amsterdam in 1631, where he began as a portrait painter but soon added mythological and religious subjects to his repertoire. In the 1630s, after moving to a house near the Jewish quarter, he recruited his new neighbors to pose for Old Testament subjects and produced some of his most sensitive and perceptive works. The years of his greatest success, the 1640s and ’50s, were marred by his profligate spending, to the extent that that he was forced to sell his own paintings and his collection in 1656. Though some commissions were forthcoming even afterward, Rembrandt died in poverty in 1669. His work, along with the large number of artists he trained in his busy studio, left a lasting influence upon the Golden Age of Dutch painting.
This drawing depicts the imprisoned Saint Peter awaiting his trial before Herod, when an angel arrives to free him during the night. The popular theme of deliverance from persecution gave the subject a long life in Christian art. In the continuing debate in Rembrandt studies over the number of drawings from the artist’s hand, as opposed to those of his many pupils, the status of this striking drawing remains unresolved. The jagged lines, typical of both Rembrandt and certain pupils, contrast with the bluish watercolor surrounding the figures, which was almost certainly added by a later hand.