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 in 1990)


Lesson Preview

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.


Storm on the Sea of Galilee


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.



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 occurring?

(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 work.

(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 piece. (Aesthetics)

(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 History)


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 outcome.