The Rembrandt Teaching Project
Teaching Guide Lesson Plan
Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Details of the Work
Title: Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)
Size: 62 1/2 x 49 5/8 in (160 x 127 cm)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Location: (Ex) Isabella Stewart
Gardner Museum, Boston, MA (painting is still unrecovered after theft
This is Rembrandt's only seascape painting. In telling a story of a miracle
from the Bible, it shows Rembrandt's depiction of high drama on the
sea, something most Dutch of his time could well understand and appreciate.
This lesson explores the painting and its meaning.
Background of the Work
During the 1630s, just when Rembrandt came to Amsterdam to begin his
career in earnest, he painted what many consider his most dramatic
works. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee exemplifies this type of work.
Rembrandt chose a story from the Bible perhaps to show the seriousness
of his artistic intentions. He came to Amsterdam fully intending to
become known as an artist of only history paintings and portraits.
However, he created this painting using a maritime theme. He demonstrated
that he could combine a history painting with a seascape using a story
from the New Testament.
This episode from New Testament would be one familiar to people of Rembrandt's
time and one also, in all likelihood, appreciated by them. However, the
dramatic tension instilled in the painting would provide the story with
an entirely new and startling interpretation. This example of experimentation
and risk-taking by the then twenty-seven-year old Rembrandt distinguished
him from his peers and became the hallmark of his artistic progression.
Description of the Work
It is during an intense and violent storm that the disciples of Christ
became terrified. The small boat upon which they are sailing is about
to become engulfed in a wave on the Sea of Galilee. Christ, who is
seated at the stern, is awoken and appears to admonish the disciples
just as he is about to command the storm to stop. It is this miracle
that Rembrandt depicts. The mast of the ship points toward two corners
of the painting. This serves to divide the painting into two triangles.
In looking at he left triangle, it can be seen that Rembrandt invests
in that space certain elements of the event about to occur--the crashing
waves, the boat high in the air and several paintings characters in
various states of distress. However, he also places a dramatic yellow
light that opens hopefully in the distance, drenching the edge of the
clouds and the ships mainsail. The right side of the diagonal is darker
and more obscured, yet to be bathed in the light, a striking example
of Rembrandt's chiaroscuro style.
In an allegorical sense, the work also illustrates the power of nature
and man's helplessness in its force. Numbered among the twelve disciples
were fisherman and sailors; however, in this scene they are powerless
and exposed to elements. They can only hang on. One holds his hand
over the side while others futilely attempt to steady the boat, the
man on the left putting one hand to his hat and the other to the rigging
is said to have the face of Rembrandt. It has been theorized that Rembrandt's
point in this is to put himself in the event through his imagination
to inspire faith in the Biblical text, affirming its occurrence.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INSTRUCTION
Developing the Lesson
Display Storm on the See of Galilee. Some questions for discussion may
include the following:
(1). What is happening? Where is it happening? What time of day is it
(2). What kind of mood is established by the painting? Define chiaroscuro.
What part does chiaroscuro play here? How does it create the mood?
(3). Describe how tension is established in the work.
(4). What do the colors of the painting say about the event? Explain
the effect the light in the left side of the painting.
(5). When you look at the painting, describe where your eye goes in the
(6). Why do you think the right portion of the painting is so dark?
(7). This is a large canvas by Rembrandt. What effect would painting
size have on this story?
(8). What do you think this story represents? Describe how this is told
in the painting.
(9). Look at the way the characters are drawn. Can everyones face be
seen clearly? How does this add or take away from the painting?
Extending the Lesson
(1). Examine other artists who have used the sea as a theme in their paintings such as Turner. Compare those techniques used by Turner as opposed to Rembrandt. (Art History)
(2). Review the geometry of painting. Discuss the effect of the diagonal on this work. Ask the students to find other forms of geometric construction. Rembrandt's paintings such as the pyramid in Sampling Officials. Explore the role of mathematics in painting. (Art Criticism)
(3). Talk about current events in relation to this painting. Having been stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, its recovery has yet to take place. Bring up security issues related to safeguarding great works of art. What is the impact of decisions such as whether to let paintings travel around the world to be seen by many people or keep the painting safe in only one museum. (Art History)
(4). Have the class listen to any of the following musical selections or divide into learning teams and provide each team with one of the suggested music selections:
Claude Debussy - La Mer
Duke Ellington - The River
George Handel - The Water Music
Felix Mendelssohn - Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
Bedrich Smetana - The Moldau
Johann Strauss II -The Blue Danube
Have the students analyze the music paying particular attention to
how the composer suggests the idea of water in the composition of the
(5). Write the word miracle on the chalkboard. Brainstorm some ideas
pertaining to this concept. Explain that a miracle happens when an event
occurs that cant be fully or rationally explained. Use the story depicted
in the painting as an example of miracle. Describe the setting and characters
and tell about the events to take place. It might be helpful to set the
story in its geographic location using a map. Ask students how they believe
people caught up in this event would react. Record their responses. (Art
Assessing the Lesson
Have students break up into groups and think of an event in history whose
outcome could have been changed by a miracle. Discuss why they selected
this event and how and why they would have changed the circumstances and