“The Three Trees” by Rembrandt van Rijn

Jaclyn Melicharek, Class of 2012, Human Biology

Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Three Trees” (1643), drypoint etching.

One artist. Two colors. Three trees. At first glance, what seems like a simple country landscape soon becomes a natural inspiration, a sketch of the world. Rembrandt Van Rijn’s The Three Trees renders contradiction in the most detailed of etchings. One is immediately drawn to the central force of nature – the scratched wood bark, the haphazardly fine branches, the carefully arranged yet appropriately scattered billow of leaves. The three trees dominate.

A man fishes in the left-hand corner, almost lost in the shadow of darkness, the impending clouds. In the background, a farmer tends to his fields, an artist sketches on the hillside, a traveler walks alongside his wagon. A windmill turns, a bird flies. Light sweeps from the right, illuminating the facing leaves and letting the ground shine amongst the shadows. Bushes overpower the foreground, as clouds creep across the still, silent sky. An everyday scene, or a portrayal of man’s vulnerability to the overwhelming strength of nature?

Collectively, Rembrandt’s work demonstrates themes of contradiction: sight versus touch or vision versus knowledge. But does every work of art need a conflict, a story, a reason? One can almost always be found. The Three Trees – a representation of religious significance? A depiction of the force of nature? Or the capture of a moment in time? Any given day, to any viewer, it can be one, all, or something else entirely. Each requires a different engagement, a new perspective, an analysis of every etched line. Sit under a tree and think about it – after all, there are three to choose from.

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