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Vatican displays Rembrandt's art for the first time

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Detail from Rembrandt's The Three Crosses (1653).

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2016 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time, the works of Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn will be displayed at the Vatican.

Organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Swedish Embassy, the art show falls about a month after Pope Francis’ visit to Sweden marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The display, entitled “Rembrandt at the Vatican: Images from Heaven and Earth,” is an extension of that same ecumenism and desire for Christian unity, Arnold Nesselrath, curator of the Vatican Museums, told Rome Reports.

"Sweden is a particularly Protestant country. Holland is a particularly Protestant country. So if you want to set an ecumenical sign through creating events as we've seen on the 31st of October, this is what we wanted to contribute to with this exhibition,” he said.

Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Queen Silvia of Sweden were both present at the launch of the exhibit, which opened with a speech by Queen Silvia. Also present was the director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, who described Rembrandt as a Protestant travelling “to the heart of Roman Catholicism. This happens under the papacy of Francis, who made the unity of Christians one of his goals.”

The son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, Rembrandt’s works contain both Catholic and Protestant elements, as he understood the two very well. There seems to be no evidence that the 17th century artist ever officially joined a church, but he tended towards Protestantism and baptised his children in Protestant communities. One of his main sources of artistic inspiration was the Bible, and some of his best known works are his biblical scenes such as “The Raising of the Cross” or “Christ Healing the Sick.”

Having never travelled to Italy in his life, Rembrandt’s only Italian artistic influence was from fellow artists who had travelled to Rome or were inspired by Italian artists. He is a renowned visual artist in three media – painting, drawing, and printmaking.

The Vatican exhibition, which contains 53 of Rembrandt’s etchings from the Zorn Museum in Mora, Sweden, will be on display through February 26.

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