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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Form and content in Rembrandt’s early raising of Lazarus theme Harvey, Christl Marcia


In the formative period of his career Rembrandt completed three works dealing with the theme of the resurrection of Lazarus: the 1630 drawing, the painting circa 1630, and the etching of approximately 1631. A discussion involving the dating of Rembrandt's painting and etching focuses on the chronology of his 1630 drawing, and Jan Lievens’ etching and painting of the same theme. The discussion in scholarly literature of Rembrandt's treatment of the miracle has been limited primarily to compositional analysis and to the questions addressing the dating chronology. No previous study approaches the iconography of the subject. In this thesis an examination of the theme reveals that Rembrandt's depiction follows the type which interprets the raising of Lazarus as a key to the achievement of eternal life through faith in Christ. Chapter I introduces and describes the works, notes the legends associated with the Lazarus narrative, summarizes and cites the original text, and closes with a history of the literature. A selection of works dating from the 2nd to 15th centuries is examined in Chapter II to establish the earlier pictorial tradition and describe motifs common to the depiction of this narrative. Chapter III isolates and defines distinct Southern and Northern types which appear in the 16th century. In Chapter IV, two of Rembrandt's immediate compositional sources, Jan Lievens and Pieter Lastman, are investigated. Following a brief clarification of their personal association with Rembrandt, several stages in the development of Rembrandt's conception are explored, contrasting his work with these earlier sources. As a result of this examination it is possible to isolate the compositional elements Rembrandt was attracted to as well as those which he rejected. The analysis also reveals several aspects of the painting and etching which suggest contrasting influences; these serve as valuable clues to the doctrines lying behind them. In the final chapter I consider the meaning of this theme of raising from the dead. The analysis is divided into two parts. In the first I review the present scholarship regarding the function of the theme's earlier tradtions. Three interpretations emerge from this broad perspective: 1) the narrative is understood simply as a miracle, though Christ's most spectacular, 2) it embodies a hope of future resurrection and promise of rebirth, and 3) it acts as a symbol of spiritual rebirth on earth. Although the delineations are not extremely clear-cut, each of the three interpretations appears to gain precedence at various times in history. In part two I consider how Rembrandt's narrative may have functioned in early 17th century Holland. Here the outstanding visual elements isolated in Chapter IV are considered in conjunction with relevant religious doctrine and documents. Viewed together with the previous iconography this analysis provides clues which suggest the theme's function in the early 17th century was to reveal that faith in Christ was the key to eternal life.

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