The Storm on the Sea of Galilee: Rembrandt’s Stolen Seascape

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee depicts the Biblical passage of Christ sitting with peace while the boat travellers fights and worry about the sea storm.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

In the seventeenth century, every one meant to be a persona like a role or guise assumed by an actor. Following this tradition, Rembrandt also played his part, but the shadowy side and rough handling of his face complicated the mask (the mask of role or gruise), suggesting the struggle between role and actor. And it is not wrong to say that no painter could ever understand both the theatricality of the social life and Rembrandt. In my previous article about The Night Watch, I told you about the obsession of Rembrandt with the theatres, which he portrayed in his artworks with utmost perfection. He saw the actors in men and the men in the actors. But Rembrandt’s drama never stopped at the stage door of the artistic mansion he built for the world. Instead, it followed him through his historical figures and his own contemporaries in chosen personae with numerous rehearsals before an audience. Witnessing the beauty of his many paintings, the viewer realizes that the characters of the artwork are no less than watching an actual theatrical performance. And for the first time, what your eyes perceive through them is true instead of an illusion. In Rembrandt’s career, he mainly played bit parts: the executioners of St. Stephen and Christ, the scared sailor on the churning Sea of Galilee, and most significant, the Prodigal Son whoring in a tavern. So it is unerring to say that the artist exactly knew how to portray every single emotion in a dramatic pose. Today, we are here to see one of his famous renderings through the painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

General Information About the Artwork.

1. Artist’s Statement.

“Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.”

2. Subject Matter.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is inspired by one of the ferocious little paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. Its subject matter includes a struggling ship in dark and stormy water, reaching the heights through strenuous and obstinate waves. On the ship, there are apostles of Christ and Jesus himself with tonnes of expressions and drama. There is an obvious presence of wind-whipping waves, spumy waters smashing over the boat, the tensed muscles of the sailors, and the miserable figure slung over the left-hand side of the boat, contrasting with the calm and patient Jesus on the other side of the boat. We will learn the entire subject matter of the painting in later sections.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee Painting
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

3. Artist.

Rembrandt, who is one of the finest artists from the Baroque era, painted The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. His art was an art of light but of uncertain reality. The last creative period in the history of light and shapes during the Renaissance was brought to a close by Rembrandt, who lived from 1606 to 1669. Before him, a few other artists had played similar roles- Giotto, Masaccio, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, the great Venetian painters, and finally Caravaggio. Although there were some dazzling variations in the molding of shapes by light after Rembrandt, no more changes were to be made to the structure of a painting after him. Rembrandt’s paintings appear as the culmination of all the possibilities contained in the classical concept of light. This concept was destroyed by Impressionism, which reshuffled all the components in the study of light, but this rearranging produced a very different approach to art.

4. Date.

The painting dates back to the year 1633, the era of the Baroque period.

5. Provenance.

A little provenance to Rembrandt’s painting is that Peter Paul Rubens decided to work on a ferocious little painting that would eventually inspire Rembrandt to take it as a model for his own, Christ Calling the Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Rubens used to work undisturbed by the routine of the Church, Santa Maria in Vallicella. One of the local captains loaned him an entire ship sail so he could create the perfect model for this painting. A gang of sailors helped stretch the sail around the painter’s work area and over the choir, creating a tented refuge from curious worshipers. This painting, which is none other than The Miracle of St. Walburga, became the standing inspiration for Rembrandt’s only sea landscape painting. We will study more historical context of the painting in upcoming sections.

The Miracle of St. Walburga Peter Paul Rubens
The Miracle of St. Walburga by Peter Paul Rubens | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

6. Location.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt was earlier on an exhibition in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. But since its theft, it has not been yet found and is still missing.

7. Technique and Medium.

The painting’s medium is oil on canvas. The famous technique that Rembrandt used in this painting to add more dilemma, drama, thrill, and contrast is the chiaroscuro technique, which by now you might know. For all those who are new and aren’t aware of the term Chiaroscuro, let me give you a brief definition of it. The technique is about the use of light and shadows to give deeper contrasts to the artwork through the study of light.

Artist Rembrandt Van Rijn
Year Painted1633
GenreSeascape, Historical Religious Painting
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions63 x 50 inches
Where is it housed?Earlier in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Now Stolen and Missing)

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee | Fast Knowledge

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee is a 1633 painting by Rembrandt depicting a Biblical passage of Christ accompanied by his disciples and a group of fishermen in a boat who worry about the sea storm. Currently missing after the 1990 heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, it utilizes Rembrandt’s narrative presentation of tension and calmness in a single frame.

In-Depth Description of Rembrandt’s Seascape.

About the Artist: Rembrandt.

In the earlier article, Night Watch, I have already introduced you to Rembrandt’s early passion for art. So, obviously, I am not repeating the same facts. Starting from a fascinating fact, however, Rembrandt was not merely an artist but also an art trader. The earlier sources suggest that he participated in this lucrative business of art trade. One of the legal documents of 1631 states that H.Uylenburch, painter and art dealer, recorded that he was indebted to the artist Rembrandt, who was the resident of Leyden, for the sum of 1000 florins. We do not know the reason for this indebtedness, but we know that Rembrandt later bought a share in Uylenburch’s fine art business for this sum.

Rembrandt Self-Portrait with Dishevelled Hair
Self-Portrait with Dishevelled Hair by Rembrandt | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the auction records, which suggested that Rembrandt participated and earned well from the auctions, several other auction sources suggest Rembrandt’s frequent participation in art sales. Not only sales, but he also became acquainted with the works of Italian masters and even bought many of them. On a rapid sketch after Raphael’s portrait of Count Baldassare Castiglione, Rembrandt wrote,

“Count Baldassare Castiglione by Raphael,”

sold for 3500 florins, a small fortune for those days.

After he moved from Leyden to Amsterdam in search of more commissions, the scope of the activities of Rembrandt in Amsterdam became increasingly wide. It gave him far more possibilities of being an artist, higher than the small town Leyden could ever give to him. He soon started getting promising commissions. To be precise, this was the time when Rembrandt was in his early 20s. For instance, he got a commission to paint an anatomy lesson by the famous anatomist Dr. Nicolas Tulp of the Surgeons Guild of Amsterdam. In this same year, he was also recognized as being domiciled in the city, as a border of Hendrick Uylenburch. It was during this time that he produced a substantial number of etchings, including the great work on the descent from the cross, and portraits of greater or lesser citizens like Johannes Uyttenbogaerdt in 1633 and Nicolas Ruts in 1639.

Rembrandt married Saskia on June 22, 1634. The biographers knew this from the Rembrandt signed portrait of Saskia, dated 1633. He writes,

“This is the portrait of my wife at the age of twenty-one, three days after our wedding on June 8, 1633.”

And after a year, they were officially married.

Saskia as Flora by Rembrandt
Saskia as Flora by Rembrandt | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Now that you know a little about the artist’s life from 1631-39, we can finally get a good historical provenance of the painting Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, painted in 1633.

History and Background of the Painting.

We know from the earlier section how Rembrandt got inspired by one of Rubens’s paintings. But there is more.

A roiling, sea-green painting of Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee owes even more to Rubens because it takes inspiration from two of his works: Hero and Leander of 1604-5, which was probably in Holland before Rembrandt bought it in 1637, and The Miracle of St. Walburga of 1610, another storm scene showing the saint riding serenely through the trough of the North Sea. Rembrandt may also have been familiar with an engraved reproduction of Marten de Vos’ Storm on the Sea of Galilee. But, the biographers of Rembrandt are not certainly sure of this as there are obvious Rubensian passages: the fury of the wind-whipped waves, the spumy waters smashing over the boat, unaffected by the prow’s harpoon; the tensed muscles of the sailor wrestling with the sail around the mast while the layard flies free into the engulfing gloom; and the helmsman battling the waves while holding the rudder steady, which inclines Rembrandt’s painting towards Rubens work. However, there are also passages that showcase Rembrandt’s pure inventions, and not just the miserable man retching into the churning sea. By juxtaposing figures of agitation and calm, Rembrandt emphasizes the impending miracle. Unlike Rubens’s works, he contrasted two groups just opposite; one agitated and the other patient. Next, he included himself in the painting. Let me give you a hint of his location in the artwork. He appears to be directly looking at the beholder, as he grips the stay with one hand while holding on to his hat with the other. But wait, this is not the first time he included himself in the adventurous painting. Another example of Rembrandt inserting himself into the action is The Elevation of the Cross.

By now, we know that there is a great connection between the two painters, and to understand Rembrandt’s work, we can’t neglect Rubens. Also, besides his self-portraits, he always included himself in adventurous paintings. In addition to this, we also know from the earlier section that Rembrandt got excellent commissions between 1631-33, and also he was married. Merging the artist’s life with this section, we now know the entire historical provenance of the painting.

In these historical religious paintings of 1631-33, all one can witness is tightly concentrated drama. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and The Abduction of Proserpine, as well as Diana Bathing with her Nymphs with Actaeon and Callisto and The Rape of Europa, all actually featured bunched groups of small figures, carefully threading spacious, turbulently lit and fantastically imagine landscape. It simply means that Rembrandt by now didn’t use the torch-light chiaroscuro as he did in Night Watch, instead, he elevated the canvases with the heights of drama with knots and heaps of characters moving in and out of the flickering light. This effect was none other than a telescopic concentration of drama played out on stage, seen from the back row of the gallery.

Now, that we know a brief about the painting, let us move on to learn its meaning.

Understanding the Meaning of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

The painting has biblical symbolism and a deep spiritual meaning. Before I take you to the biblical passage, let me explain in my own words. The challenges we face in our lives are sometimes so intense that it feels like we are literally passing through a rough weathered ocean that wants to take down our spirits with its haunting winds and gloomy waters, but only faith can help you overcome them. You don’t have to worry about anything at the moment, no matter how hard things may be at the moment, because everything is taken care of by God. Perhaps these waters can teach you something fruitful. This Storm on the Sea of Galilee displays the same thing I said, but let’s see how the Bible describes it,

35 That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down, and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Let us now see the painting more closely through the next section.

Subject Matter.

In the painting, we see three groups of disciples. Let us start from the back of the boat. It is a small group, which amidst the storm, gathered around Jesus’s feet. But wait, it is Rembrandt’s painting, so there are more details and drama, of course. There is the use of hand drama, which Rembrandt portrayed well in this painting. If you look closer, one pair of hands is brought together in the prayers; another hand is sharply foreshortened and is thrust out in gesticulation. And another hand roughly pulls Jesus around to face the anger and perturbation. Stunningly, his profile bears this same physiognomy as that of the model for Pluto in The Abduction of Proserpine. In contrast to this, the hands of the Savior are a rest: one on his lap and the other one at his heart as an avowal of the faith by which he tends to calm down his disciplines. Now, this end of the group has a certain kind of darkness as it is another end of the boat.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Christ and the group around him in the composition | Source: Gardner Museum

Coming to the second group of disciples, there is a humble light over them, which is the light of Christ that shines amid the darkness from the clouds. It shows how the weather showed its two faces: one that of dark ferocity, which is calm, and the other a patch of open sky with boiling clouds. Now, those who have their eyes fixed on Christ are calm, but on the other hand, the other group are greatly disturbed by the wind, possessed by fear and darkness.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee Rembrandt Subject Matter
The Group facing away from Christ and fighting the storm | Source: Gardner Museum

Then there is another group of fishermen, fighting the storm and desperately trying to keep the boat from being swamped. In this entire scenario, there is Peter, who is fighting with the storm, with everything he has got. However, he shows his back to the light of Jesus by the clouds, which means that he tried escaping from the problem on his own, instead of relying on Christ.

And then there is apostle John in the back with Jesus, looking to the light, and relying on Jesus to get the boat through the storm. 

Formal Analysis of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

1. Line.

The entire painting has a fusion of diagonal lines to portray instability, motion, and turbulence. You don’t have to look deeper to search these lines. The ropes by which the boat is tied to its ends are in a diagonal posture. Similarly, the boat also stands in the diagonal direction, showing turbulence in the ocean.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee Analysis
Line Analysis of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

2. Light and Value.

Rembrandt painted the artwork in chiaroscuro technique, which shows darkness at the back end of the boat and lights over the front side of the boat. The soft light also tears apart the gloomy clouds of darker shade.

3. Color.

The painting portrays contrasting colors over the canvas. For instance, the deeper and darker waters with greyish clouds contrast well with the yellowish-white light from the sky. The backside figures in the boat wear blue clothing, while the storm witness in the front of the boat, wears yellow. However, the black contours of the boat ropes highlight the composition well.

Who Stole The Storm on the Sea of Galilee?

In 1990, two men posed as police officers and entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in the early hours of the morning. As they entered the museum, they stole 13 works of art. Along with Rembrandt’s painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, they took artworks of art history’s biggest names, including Manet, Edward Degas, and Vermeer. Today, the value of these artworks is around 500 Million Dollars, but sadly none of them have been retrieved yet.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Rembrandt Stolen Art
The empty frame space (in right) where The Storm on the Sea of Galilee used to hang | Source: The New York Times

To know more about its search, you can refer to The Collector.

Opinions and Conclusions.

Rembrandt certainly painted the most striking narrative painting, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, which is also the only seascape by him. Whether you call the detailed rendering of the scene, the figures varied expressions, polished brushwork, or the perfect use of chiaroscuro, Rembrandt mastered the seascape with creative audacity. Though it is still missing, it will always remain in our hearts with its deeper spiritual meaning.


1. Rembrandt by Henriette Bolten-Rempt and J. Bolten.

2. Rembrandt by John William Mollet and Carel Vosmaer.

3. Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama.

4. Rembrandt Quest of a Genius by Ernst Van De Wetering.

5. Rembrandt by Michale Kitson.

6. Bible Gateway.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who painted The Storm on the Sea of Galilee?

Rembrandt painted The Storm on the Sea of Galilee in 1633 during his time in 1633. The painting depicts Christ, his disciples, and fishermen facing the storm on the Sea of Galilee and exhibits the artist’s excellent light effect that represents that of a theatre.

What is the story behind the painting The Sea of Galilee?

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee takes its inspiration from a Biblical passage mentioned in Mark 4, where a storm broke while Jesus and his disciples were on the boat and as the former started to worry, Jesus calmed the environment saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

What is the message of The Storm on the Sea of Galilee?

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee represents faith and narrates how faith can overcome life challenges.

What did Jesus do during the storm at Sea?

As the disciples started to worry and woke Christ, he replied, calming the wind and wave, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”


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