The Mysterious Light of Rembrandt’s Faust

Leaving not a record or even a name for his work, Rembrandt’s 1652 etching of a man gazing at a mysterious bright light continues to evade decisive interpretation.  Referred to as first as, The Practicing Alchemist in 1679, and then later as Faust in his Study, the Rembrandt scene raises many questions.  Most noticeably are the inscriptions and the sudden appearance of an apparition which causes viewers to reflect; like the man in the etching.

Depicted in the image are a globe, human skull, books, work area, papers, and other objects which suggest the individual (along with his style of clothing), is a learned man.  Although details (like whether the globe is an astronomical or geographical globe which would help to determine what type of study the man was occupied with), are left out, viewers realize he has been interrupted from his work. The vision which appears to him gains his full attention.

From the unexpected illumination, one hand is noticed to be holding a mirror, while the other hand is pointing into it.  The face of the apparition cannot be seen, as this is where the circular shape and rays emanate. Within the spherical shape, the inscriptions, INRI (central), surrounded by ADAM TE DAGERAM, and a third circular arrangement of AMRTET ALGAR ALGASTNA are written.  A few cross like symbols separate the words.

INRI is an acronym of Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum/Jesus of Nazarene, King of the Jews.  This was written during the crucifixion and placed above Jesus’ head on the cross.  Since stating in the Bible who was on the cross (Luke 23:38, “This is the King of Jews”), could this inscription also imply who is appearing in Rembrandt’s Faust?

AGLA, depicted in reverse form within the outer circle, is another acronym, and means ‘You O Lord are mighty forever.’  One may wonder if it is in reverse because a person will realize the correct sequence by looking into the mirror; but only by doing so.  This seems to match the instruction given by the pointing hand.

As well as the AGLA acronym, the other inscriptions are known to be Cabbalistic writings.  They were rarely known, but not unique, in the time of Rembrandt.  In an article entitled, Rembrandt’s Faust in his Study (sourced below), it is said this same arrangement was included on amulets and used for protection in battles.  This has lent support for the portrayal of the man in Rembrandt’s etching to be involved in more than just normal studies; since these magical items were often associated with higher and secret learning’s.

Given that Rembrandt did not provide an account for his intended meaning of the fine etching, the image will always cause viewers to question.  The mystery which surrounds the vision attracts, almost beckons, those who look upon it, to search for meaning.  The mirror, the pointing hand, the man captivated by the light; the entire scene welcomes the seeker.



McHenry, Deni MacIntosh, Rembrandt’s Faust in his Study Reconsidered, reviewed July 2012

Carter, Carey, Faust, reviewed July 2012



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8 Responses

  1. Madmonk says:

    As long as we exist in the perception of this world alone, we cannot understand that it is imaginary. Right now matter is the only reality we know, and we don’t feel anything else. Yet, our objective is to start to clearly perceive the world on two levels: the material and the spiritual. Then we will understand that one of them is imaginary. This doesn’t mean it does not exist; “imaginary” means it is a reflection of the true form, whereas the second, spiritual form is the real thing.

    There is something that’s authentic, and then there is a reflection of it, like in a mirror. You can’t say that the reflection doesn’t exist. Moreover, it is precisely the reflection that enables us to come to the perception of the true, spiritual form.

    One never perceives the spiritual form separately, by itself. On the path of correction, a person continually develops a greater spiritual perception of the forms of the Creator, but he reveals them within the imaginary form of this world. Therefore, we cannot detach from it until we ascend all 125 degrees of the spiritual ladder.

    Along the entire path of correction, on all the phases of attainment, one’s spiritual perception constantly grows stronger while being based on these two forms: the imaginary and the real. The imaginary form is only called imaginary. But do we really imagine our world? After all, we live in it – this is our current reality.

    The true reality is the realm from which forces, decisions, and facts come to us, while only their reflection exists in this world in order to help us attain the true reality. When we begin to attain it, we call this world “imaginary.” Yet, it isn’t some non-existent fantasy, but is necessary for us to discern spirituality.


  2. If we know the world OUTSIDE our heads, this world is not imaginary, just ask the Vampire Squid. The Vampire Squid does not need our mind to lives its life. Anyway, this is what materialized RIGHT next to me. Finally, I find something somewhere that shows exactly what the spherical globe looked like. Accurate to the size of the sphere I witnessed in comparison to the etching above. On two separate occasions!! One sphere was simply a medicine ball sized sphere PAUSED in mid air about two and a half feet above ground, smoke filled but no smoke swirling, looked like a grey semi translucent marble paused in time. After my mind was out of excuses I got of my chair, looked under and all around it. I did not touch it, instead, I blew on it. I believed it would flow away like a balloon. It immediately collapsed into a smokey mist and quick evaporation.
    The second experience, was at my face level about a foot away from my FACE. I must admit, this second sphere was quite like the picture displayed in the etching above, EXACTLY. The color was of electric blues and purple ultra violet featuring a black hole center looking swirl. This one sorta kinda scared me, I didn’t stay another second when it appeared at head level, while I stood there. I exited the room nonchalantly. The sphere did NOT bare any symbolism, just an open center. I am off to my research to find out more. I would very much appreciate any helpful information about these spherical encounters. I believe cosmic and supernatural forces where making themselves acknowledged as a presence in my home, but this is my analysis so far.

  3. Zhenya says:

    this vision and inscription has particular significance for freemasonry. In addition to the Christian interpretation of the letters INRI signifying Christ, for Masons this represents Igne Natura Renovatur Integra (the sacred fire of Masonry that naturally regenerates humankind). Compare the Rosicrucian Cross (also prevalent in Masonic symbolism) to Rembrandt’s image of the vision. Here you will find all of the same ingredients: the three concentric circles, the cross in the middle, transliteration in Latin of Hebrew words spelling God, and the letters INRI.

    A curious footnote to this riddle is that the letters have been rotated by Rembrandt with the “R” residing prominently at the top, spelling RIIN clockwise. Riin is an equivalent way to notate Rembrandt’s last name Rijn, since in Dutch the capital letters “I” and “J” can be written identically. Rembrandt thus added a clever and daring spin to the abbreviation of the letter “R” from Rex (or King), identifying himself by either first or last name: “R” for Rembrandt or “R” for “Rijn” and thus equating himself with God.

    For full article visit:

  4. Alyssa says:

    I have this etching and I am trying to figure out if I have an authentic one. Can you tell me more about it? How many prints are known to exist? Mine is numbered No.84
    Any info greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!


  5. Jackie Dukes says:

    I have this etching. I would like to know its value I believe it is #15.

  6. Spallies says:

    Very lovely and sweet…. Thanks for sharing…

  7. Maria Rigel says:

    Found this describing the disks on the Internet… Hard to say how much the person writing it actually knows, but it does sound interesting:

    The sigil of the macrocosm contains and crystallizes the evolution or progression law of Genesis, Being
    and Decay towards a new uprising, and therefore the basic law of magic that can neither be explained nor learned, because it is the ‘unutterable name of God’, the ‘last master word’ that everyone needs to seek and find for themselves. Only the true ‘master’ or ‘disciple’ can fathom and ‘ad-am-te da-ger-am’ form it into a true deed- Igne Natura Renovatur Integre

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