Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus

Rembrandt's Supper at Emmaus
The Biblical story of the Supper at Emmaus, in which Jesus appears to, and later has a meal with two of his disciples after his resurrection, is a repeated theme in the history Christian art.

The most famous example is the striking composition by Carravaggio.

Rembrandt’s portrayal of the scene is less familiar, and is not one of the more commonly reproduced works in his oeuvre.

However, when I had the chance to see this painting in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last August as part of the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibition, I was fascinated by it and returned to it several times during my visit.

With no disrespect to Rembrandt’s intentions for the focus of the painting, it was not his figures that captured my attention in this instance, but the surroundings in which he placed them, most notably the table and simple still life objects, and the cloth on which they rested.

Seen close up, these simple subjects in Rembrandt’s hands seemed to me a tour-de-force in still life painting, the background a textural masterpiece and textbook example of how to use a background and lighting to set off a scene with figures.

The figures themselves, of course, were painted with Rembrandt’s unwavering strength as a painter, but I didn’t find them among his most compelling, in contrast to the scene as a whole. The tablecloths, in particular, are a marvel of subtle color blending, rich brushwork and the play of light across a complex surface.

The painting was probably based on this earlier etching.

This is the second of two very different takes by Rembrandt on the subject, the first is more stark and dramatic, with the figure of Jesus almost in silhouette in the foreground and great areas of sharp chiaroscuro forming the composition (images above, bottom).

The later painting, though less dramatic, is richer and more involving. The original is in the Louvre, which provides a reasonably high resolution image of the painting here.


5 Replies to “Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus”

  1. Although I’m a great admirer of Rembrandt’s skill as a painter I don’t think he had any idea of the features of a jewish carpenter/builder, who after his resurrection was mistaken for, among others, the gardener. John 20:14-16, Mark 16: 12,13, Luke 24: 13-32, 36-43 and John 20: 19-20.
    Isaiah wrote: And he will come up like a twig before one, and like a root out of waterless land. No stately form does he have, nor any splendor; and when we shall see him, there is not the appearance so that we should desire him.
    He was despised and was avoided by men, a man meant for pains and for having acquaintance with sickness. And there was as if the concealing of one’s face from us. He was despised, and we held him as of no account. Truly our sicknesses were what he himself carried; and as for our pains, he bore them. But we ourselves accounted him as plagued, stricken by God and afflicted. But he was being pierced for our transgression; he was being crushed for our errors. The chastisement meant for our peace was upon him, and because of his wounds there has been a healing for us.

  2. I would like to know how old my Print of The Supper at Emmaus is. It was said to have been approximately over 100 yrs old. And what would be its value? It is hung in a frame which looks old also.

  3. My personal favorite of Rembrandt was his slaughtered ox painting. It just looks meaty you know what I mean?
    You said you returned to the supper painting several times to look at it and noted the cloth and still life aspect of it all.
    It’s as if he spent more time depicting the clear glass and silver plates on the table than the face of jesus.

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