Christ Crucified between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses)


Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia, United States

Rembrandt primarily used drypoint to create this print. Drypoint lines are made by scratching directly into a metal plate with a sharply pointed tool, creating a furrow with fragile ridges of metal on either side of the line. This displaced metal, called “burr,” captures extra ink, producing diffuse tonal effects when printed. Burr wears down quickly from pressure in the printing press, diminishing these velvety accents with each printing.
By the time Rembrandt created The Three Crosses, his most ambitious print, he had been exploring religious subjects in prints and paintings for more than two decades. He reworked the plate five times, but made the most dramatic changes in this, the fourth state. Abandoning the worn lines of his initial composition, the artist forcefully gouged the plate as he created new figures, allowing their raw, jagged outlines to overlap the faint remains of earlier ones. No longer firmly modeled, the people become apparitions, while the body of Christ alone has substance. Rembrandt further transformed the scene by deeply scratching long, vertical lines that cast all but Christ into shadow. One of the crucified men is plunged entirely in darkness, recalling the passage in the book of Luke when the resentful criminal derides Christ, who, in turn, promises salvation to the other thief. Through his reworking of the plate, Rembrandt seemingly drew upon a lifetime of biblical meditation to create this compelling interpretation of Christ’s crucifixion.


  • Title: Christ Crucified between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses)
  • Creator Lifespan: 1606/1669
  • Creator Nationality: Dutch (active Leiden and Amsterdam)
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Creator Birth Place: Leiden, Netherlands
  • Date: 1653-1655
  • Location: Netherlands
  • Physical Dimensions: w17.75 x h15.06 in (Image and sheet)
  • Provenance: Acquired with the Muriel and Philip Berman Gift (by exchange) and with the gifts (by exchange) of Lisa Norris Elkins, Bryant W. Langston, Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, William Goldman, Herbert T. Church, R. Edward Ross, Jay Cooke, Carl Zigrosser, John Sheldon, the Charles M. Lea Collection, the William S. Pilling Collection, the Louis E. Stern Collection, the Print Club of Philadelphia Permanent Collection, and with funds contributed (by exchange) from John Howard McFadden, Jr., Thomas Skelton Harrison, the Philip and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation and the Edgar Viguers Seeler Fund, 2003
  • Type: Prints
  • Rights: © 2014 Philadelphia Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
  • External Link: Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Medium: Drypoint with engraving (fourth state of five)
  • Artist/Maker: Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Dutch (active Leiden and Amsterdam), 1606 - 1669

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