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Rembrandt, an artist to grow old with

The Guardian, Jonathan Jones on Art blog writes the following and ends with a question. This post is an attempt to respond to that question:

According to the British art critic Jonathan Jones, many Renaissance artists were “coldly curious” or even cruel in their depictions of old age. For instance, Leonardo da Vinci scorned elderly faces as “monstrous wrecks.” Fortunately, there was one notable exception to this habit of mocking the elderly—Rembrandt. Jones writes, “Rembrandt painted old age with a nobility and power that no artist has ever approached.” He recognized “the dignity and character of aged faces” and embraced “the marks of time as beautiful, mysterious, and rich.” Rembrandt was much more interested in what Jones calls “the mystery behind someone’s eyes.”

But Rembrandt’s deepest study of aging was based on his own life. Rembrandt painted more self portraits than any other artist of the 17th century, and all together they tell the story of his journey into old age. For instance, in 1640, at the height of his career, Rembrandt painted his “Self Portrait at the Age of 34.” Decked out in an elaborate and fashionable costume, Rembrandt looks self-assured and even snobbish. But nearly thirty years later in 1669, the year of his death, Rembrandt painted “Self Portrait at the Age of 63.” In this painting he wears a simple peasant coat and beret. His face looks wise, humble, and peaceful. Jones concludes, “At 34 [Rembrandt] looks proud, at 63 he simply looks human. To be sure, Rembrandt is an artist to grow old with.”

So what can the church learn from Rembrandt?
Ephesians 1:1-3
1. Teach Children, to obey and respect their parents in the Lord, for this is right.

2. Teach children to “Honor their fathers and mothers” (this is the first commandment with a promise),

3. Remind them that this comes with a promise. “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

4.  The church can also make ministry to seniors a priority. The elderly is worth pursuing with the gospel of Jesus. Recently it has become uncool to do senior ministry. We’ve taken away their choruses and hymnals and slapped them in the face the all kinds of stupid songs in the name of becoming relevant or current. And if they don’t like it, well, they can go down the street to the retirement center where they still sing the songs they like.

5.  Make them useful. They still have ministry in them. Train them to mentor younger kids. Use them in ministry. Your older church pianist may not be able to play those upbeat and difficult songs on Sunday mornings, but you can still work with what they can do. Include them, use them from time to time. Don’t just fire them. After all they have a ministry too. Look for ways you can use them. And make them feel as valuable as the other younger and gifted musicians.

6.  Finally the church must continue to preach and teach about the power of humility, the value of godly wisdom, embracing one’s own humanity and resting in the peace that comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.


Source: Matt Woodley, managing editor,; source: Jonathan Jones, “Rembrandt and the art of growing old,” The Guardian, Jonathan Jones on Art blog (3-29-12)


  1. I like the comment about Rembrandt’s ability to paint “the mystery behind someone’s eyes.” I think Jesus could do that, too. He knows our stories. He sees what’s behind our eyes… Great post!


    • Oh yes, he knows everything about us… and sees everything behind our eyes. He also loves to hear us tell our stories. Thank you for the comment.


  2. Amen!!! I learn a lot from the elderly as a caregiver. I praise God I do not have the be concerned about getting old, since we are family.


  3. Just a couple of scriptures to give you a big “Amen”.

    “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” Psalm 71:9 (KJV)

    “13 Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; 15 To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. Psalms 92:13-15. (Hmm… maybe we should change the name of our senior group from “Evergreen”, to “The Fat & Flourishing”, lol 😉 )

    Thank you for this reminder to honor the treasures the LORD has placed in our care. God bless you. Beth


  4. Anonymous says

    I especially like your number 4 about music. I want to worship God when I sing, not see and hear some youngster’s attempt to “lead worship” with something I can’t tell any difference from with the “top 40” or whatever on radio. Thank you.


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