His examples

Rembrandt used works of art as an example for his own study. He studied works of his predecessors and of his fellow artists. Rembrandt owned a large collection of paintings, statues, drawings and prints of artist he admired. They were a source of inspiration for his own work.

Lucas van Leyden and Pieter Lastman
Rembrandt’s etching The triumph of Mordecai contains details derived from an engraving of the same scene by his famous predecessor and fellow-townsman Lucas van Leyden. The man kneeling on the right with his cap in his hand, and even more so the man pushing back his headgear from his round pate are clear pointers to the Lucas original. But this was not Rembrandt’s only borrowing source, for he has also used elements from a painting of the same scene by his teacher Pieter Lastman. He has borrowed the gateway from Lastman’s painting, together with the figures watching from a balcony high above the scene. The circular domed building in the background also seems to have been borrowed from Lastman’s work. Unlike Lucas and Lastman, Rembrandt has not hidden the figure of Haman behind the horse, but has placed him in the foreground, exclaiming: ‘Thus shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour’ (Esther 6: 11).

Lucas van Leyden. De triomf van Mordechai. Ets. Rembrandthuis Pieter Lastman. De triomf van Mordechai. Ets. Rembrandthuis Rembrandt. De triomf van Mordechai. Ets. Rembrandthuis
Lucas van Leyden, The triumph of Mordechai, 1515 Pieter Lastman, The triumph of Mordechai, 1617 Rembrandt, The triumph of Mordechai, ca. 1641

Jacques Callot
As the basis for his etching of a beggar with his hand outstretched, Rembrandt used an etching of a beggar by the French artist Jacques Callot. Callot’s etching is part of a series of prints of beggars (Les Gueux) that inspired a great many artists. The figure is shown against a blank background. The beggar is wearing ragged clothes and his feet are bare. He appears to be saying something, while his hand is outstretched to receive alms. Like Jacques Callot, Rembrandt produced a great many small prints showing one or more beggars. This seated beggar shows significant similarities to Callot’s Beggar standing-the expression on the beggar’s face, his ragged cloak and his outstretched hand. In Rembrandt’s etching, the face is more expressive of the hard life a beggar suffered. Another difference is that Rembrandt has shown a bank in the background.

 Callot Beggar Standing  Rembrandt Beggar Seated
Jacques Callot, Beggar standing, c. 1622 Rembrandt, Beggar seated on a bank, 1630

Annibale Carracci
For his etching Jupiter and Antiope Rembrandt took his inspiration from an etching by the Italian artist Annibale Carracci.
The god Jupiter, in the shape of a satyr, spies on the sleeping princess Antiope. Cupid looks on, holding the bow with which he can fire the arrows of love. There is a landscape in the background. Rembrandt’s version is the reverse of Carracci’s print. Rembrandt has borrowed a great deal, including the position and pose of the figures and the fall of light and shadow. But he has also omitted things: Cupid has gone, as has the curtain at the front and the whole landscape.

 Caracci Jupiter Antiope  Rembrandt Jupiter Antiope
Annibale Carracci, Jupiter and Antiope, 1592 Rembrandt, Jupiter and Antiope, 1659

Albrecht Dürer
On occasion, Rembrandt used one or more elements from a print with a subject that bore little relation to the subject of his own print. For his etching of Adam and Eve, he drew inspiration from the engraving Christ in limbo by Albrecht Dürer. In this engraving Dürer has shown Christ breaking open the gates of hell to liberate the souls of the righteous dead. Adam and Eve are standing in the background and a monster is clinging to the archway. Rembrandt shows us Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They are about to eat the forbidden fruit that the serpent has given Eve. With its wings and legs, the serpent looks more like a dragon than a snake (it was later that God’s curse forced the beast to move henceforth on its belly). It is very reminiscent of the little monster in Dürer’s print. The composition of the etching is very similar too. The sloping tree trunk and the leafy branches in Rembrandt’s print echo the line formed by Christ’s staff and the gateway in Dürer’s work.

 Durer Rembrandt Examples  Rembrandt Adam Eve
Albrecht Dürer, Christ in limbo, 1512 Rembrandt, Adam and Eve, 1638