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Remembering Rembrandt: The Chemical Etcher Extraordinaire

When you think of chemical etching, you probably think of photochemical etching, like what we do here at

This is perfectly fine; after all, as industry leaders our chemical etching services help to keep some of the world’s biggest businesses and core sectors functioning.

However, we tend to associate the whole process with the technical and precise nature of industrial chemical etching. That isn’t the case though. Chemical etching has ancient roots, but it is the artistry involved in the process that is something to take note of.

As precise and technical as our particular etching is, once upon a time the process belonged to artists and the creative alone.

One skilled and famous chemical etcher in particular was Rembrandt van Rijn. He pushed the limits, stunned the world and helped chemical etching make its mark on society.

In honour of this etching icon and his legacy, here is more on the man himself.

Who was Rembrandt van Rijn?

The Dutch artist was born 15th July 1606 to a family large in size, but modest in lifestyle. He was well educated but left university to pursue art and study with the masters.

By age 22, Rembrandt was himself a teacher and an independent artist, respected for his talent. Though he enjoyed a long and successful career, he faced personal and financial difficulty.

The artist lost three of his four children, his wife and the majority of his wealth over the years. His surviving son and common-law wife took over his estate though, allowing him to do what he loved without having to worry about the burden of family finances.

During an auction of his property, as a result of bankruptcy, the public were given an insight into Rembrandt’s eclectic world of Classical, contemporary and ancient styles. Such varied tastes and a tendency to be experimental led to Rembrandt’s status as a master etcher.

Which works did he etch?

Rembrandt was acknowledged as a master of the etching medium, and he wasn’t afraid to push the limits, using the process for intricate works and everything from landscapes and portraits to nudes and biblical scenes.

In 1628, he produced his first two etchings. They were of an old woman, believed to be his mother. 1629 saw the artist produce a chemically etched self-portrait, and his final etched self-portrait appeared in 1658; this piece of meta-art showed the artist at work as an etcher.

It is interesting that he was famed for his etching rather than his painting, though it was understandable. At the time, etching (next to the written word) was the primary form of mass communication and Rembrandt revolutionised it as a medium. For more information on metal etching why not visit our website today!

What was his etching process?

Rembrandt used a classic 17th-century technique, where the artist would start by covering the plate with a coat of protective resin. They would then use a needle to scratch the design through the resin and into the plate. Once the design was finished, the whole thing was placed into an acid bath and any scratched areas (free of resin) were eaten away by the acidic solution. This process would leave a detailed etched design behind, once the remnants of acid and resin were washed away.

This process isn’t so different from our own photochemical etching. It is just that we take away the guesswork and the possibility of inaccurate etchings by using photographic artwork and a special light-reactive coating for a more accurate, tailored and streamlined process.

We owe a lot to Rembrandt, especially his use and advocacy of chemical etching. Had he not pushed the boundaries and shown the scope of chemical etching, who knows if we would have thought to work towards the precision etching we are familiar with today.