Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in scholarship devoted to the study of pictorial spaces in seventeenth-century Netherlands. While much light has been shed on the spaces of such artists as Nicholaes Maes and Pieter de Hooch, those of Rembrandt have not been the objects of a scholarly gaze. Sparsely illuminated with few features of architectural spaces, Rembrandt’s spaces appear to be suggested rather than clearly articulated and thus challenge the conventional approach to pictorial spaces.

In this dissertation, I engage with the spaces of Rembrandt’s history paintings by providing a different conceptual framework for approaching the spatial indeterminacy that marks his paintings. Drawing on phenomenological interpretations of space and theories of aesthetic reception, I approach Rembrandt from a primarily methodological point of view. I argue that space should not be perceived as a three-dimensional realm governed and bound by laws of perspective. Rather it is a fluid, constantly evolving entity that necessitates the active participation of a subjective beholder. Eschewing the notion of a prior-existing absolute space, I posit that a painting consists of multiple spaces created by the interaction, or the lack thereof, of human figures to one another and their environment.

My dissertation has an introduction and four chapters. Each chapter is centered on a spatial property that addresses in some respect man’s relationship to space. I look at interiority and its relationship to interior spaces; liminality as expressed in transitional structures such as windows and doors; drapery’s bond with the body and theatricality; and finally, the role of light and shadows in the creation of spaces. I aim to contribute to the discussion of pictorial space in general as well as add to the understanding of Rembrandt and his oeuvre


For those outside the Bryn Mawr community who want access to this dissertation, check Proquest Digital Dissertations, order through your library's ILL department, or see if the dissertation is available for purchase through Proquest.