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Rembrandt's portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, painted when he was only 26, reveals his early reverence for people as they age. It is remarkable in its simplicity and glowing quality of light. His delicate brush strokes lovingly display the lines of age around her eyes and mouth. The woman's fleeting facial expression engages and holds the viewer's gaze. She looks directly at the painter and, now, the viewer.


When Aeltje Uylenburgh sat for this portrait in 1632, she was 62 and considered an old woman for that time. But today, she would only be at the cusp of old age. Looking at her soft, ruddy cheeks and hint of a smile, one senses a vibrant, thoughtful person, fully engaged in life itself. Her physical presence is apparent. One suspects that she is not sitting passively for Rembrandt to paint her but rather inwardly challenging him to capture her spirit on his canvas. She is dressed somberly as befits the wife of Pastor Johannes Sylvius. Her linen cap is an almost translucent halo of white. One is drawn to the concern and warmth she exudes. Visitors in the gallery return to this painting after viewing others time and again. It is not only the master's craft, but also the inner life he has captured on his canvas that draws them to her. It is as though she lends viewers a quiet yet vital energy. You suspect that she liked people, enjoyed their stories. And maybe she was amused to have her portrait being painted by a young man who was a mere 26 years old.


One of the most important virtues of nurses is their ability to engage with the spirit of another. In this endeavor, Rembrandt is our master teacher and guide.


The reader can view Rembrandt's portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh (and other stunning portraits) in vivid color on the Web at Once on the Web site, click "painting" on the bar and then "Paintings 1620 to 1635" and scroll down to the portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, click the painting's name, and it will enlarge for perfect viewing and reflection. This Web site also contains Rembrandt's biography and images of his oil paintings, drawings, and etchings.