Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 – 1669

The Stoning of St Stephen

oil on panel (90 × 124 cm) — 1625 Museum Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn biography

This work is linked to Acts 7:58

Tags: Paul | Stephen

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Stephen was a member of the Christian community in Jerusalem. The apostles had selected him and six others to perform all sorts of community services: they were the first deacons. Stephen's job was to care for Greek widows. "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people", it says in Acts 6:8.

A group of Jews became jealous. In front of the high priests they falsely accused Stephen. He defended himself with a long plea that ended with accusing the priests. Stephen claimed they did not uphold the law, and that they betrayed and killed those that announced the coming of the "Just One".

The crowd in the temple was infuriated and seized Stephen. Outside the city he was stoned to death. That made Stephen into the first Christian martyr: someone who died for the faith.

This is one of Rembrandt's first paintings. It is the first with a biblical subject.

In the background to the right stand the priests. In the top center a worried group looks on: members of the Christian community? Stephen wears a fine gown, common among the deacons in Rembrandt's days. His last words were "lay not this sin to their charge". Originating in the top left is a beam of light that shines in Stephen's face: a sign that heaven saw it all happen. The man on horseback is probably Saul, the persecutor of Christians who was soon to become the apostle Paul.

The face right above Stephen could very well be Rembrandt's first self-portrait.

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