This year the Netherlands commemorates the fact that Rembrandt van Rhijn (1606-1669) died 350 years ago, and the museum marks this anniversary by exhibiting Rembrandt medals from its own collection in the Quist Vitrine.
From its early beginnings in the 15th century, the sculpting of medals was focused on portraying famous and influential individuals. It is therefore not surprising that the distinctive head of Rembrandt has inspired a number of medallists. It was indeed a challenge to capture ‘Rembrandt’ on the relatively flat, restricted surface of a medal. The difficulty of this task is evident in the items in the exhibition. The left hand side of the vitrine displays the work of a number of 20th-century artists who worked to a lesser or greater extent along traditional lines, while the right hand side offers a selection of different variants of the legendary Rembrandt medal by sculptor and medallist Piet Esser (1914-2004). The artist’s heirs in 2016 gave these many variants in terracotta and bronze to museum Beelden aan Zee in extended loan.
In the autumn of 1955 Piet Esser was commissioned by the then Ministry of Education, Arts and Sciences to design a Rembrandt medal. This was intended to be a gift for all the institutions that had lent objects for the great Rembrandt exhibition held in 1956 in the Rijksmuseum on the occasion of the artist’s 350th anniversary. Esser created 26 design variations from which the client could choose. Since then, Esser could not free himself of this design. Between 1956 and 1991 there came a variety of versions of these 26 variants. In 1988 the young and old versions of the Rembrandt medal were issued by the Vereniging voor Penningkunst (Dutch Medal Association). These two medals are to be seen in the left hand vitrine.
The Rembrandt medals marked a turning point in modern Dutch medal making; this was the introduction of the hand-modelled medal. This is characterized by the strong sculptural working of the surface, which creates an exciting effect of light and shadow. The technique of minting, prevalent until then, made way for the cast medal. This was embraced by Piet Esser’s many students at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, resulting in the so-called ‘school of Esser’. These young sculptors, including Geer Steyn (1945) whose Rembrandt can be seen here, created sculptural medals in the 1960s, 70s and 80s at such a high artistic level that certainly did not go unnoticed at international exhibitions. To this day, the Netherlands continues to be a global leader as a medal-making country.