The painting showcases the young Rembrandt’s ability not only to represent a sacred history, but also to seize our attention and immerse us in an unfolding pictorial drama. The spectacle of darkness and light formed by the churning seas and blackening sky immediately attracts our attention. We then become caught up in the disciples’ terrified responses, each meticulously characterized to encourage and sustain prolonged, empathetic looking. Only one figure looks directly out at us as he steadies himself by grasping a rope and holds onto his cap. His face seems familiar from Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and as his gaze fixes on ours we recognize that we have become imaginative participants in the painter’s vivid dramatization of a disaster Christ is about to avert.
Source: Michael Zell, "Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 145