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Thursday, 27 July 2017



Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606 in Leiden in the Dutch Republic, now the Netherlands.

He was born to Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn, a prosperous miller and Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuijtbrouck, who was a baker's daughter.

Conflicting sources state that his family either had 7, 9, or 10 children. Rembrandt was one of the youngest.

As a boy Rembrandt attended Latin school and was enrolled as a student at the University of Leiden on May 20, 1620.

Rembrandt had no scientific leanings preferring to paint and he studied less than a year at the University of Leiden.


In 1621 Rembrandt to dedicate himself fully to painting. His parents apprenticed him to a history artist, Jacob van Swanenburgh in his home town of Leiden, with whom he spent three years.

After a brief but important apprenticeship in Amsterdam, Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens.

Unlike many of his contemporaries who traveled to Italy as part of their artistic training, Rembrandt never left the Dutch Republic during his lifetime.

A young Rembrandt, c. 1628, when he was 22. 

In 1627, Rembrandt began to accept students and two years later, he was taken up by an influential patron Constantijn Huygen, the Secretary to Holland's chief administrator. As a result of this connection, Prince Frederik Hendrik continued to purchase paintings from Rembrandt until 1646.

Rembrandt had a huge reputation as a young man, between 1632 and 1642 he was reasonably prosperous, but his portraits became too original and truthful for the public.

After the death of his wealthy wife Saskia in 1642, Rembrandt fell out of love with society and did not paint anymore lucrative society portraits. Rembrandt's fame waned from then on, only to be restored much later after his death.

Rembrandt often went to art auctions sometimes buying back his own paintings. For instance he paid a huge price to buy back his etching of Christ Preaching.

After the decline in his fame, Rembrandt lived beyond his means, buying many art pieces, costumes (often used in his paintings), and rarities, which caused his bankruptcy in 1656. (He could only keep the earnings that were necessary to buy life's basics). The great Dutch artist died in poverty.

Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar (1659), National Gallery of Art, 

Not everyone appreciated Rembrandt even 150 years later. John Hunt wrote "Rembrandt is not to be compared in the painting of character with our extraordinarily gifted English artist Mr Rippingille."


Rembrandt was the world's foremost practioner of etchings, many of which survive today. His reputation as the greatest etcher in the history of the medium was established in his lifetime and never questioned since.

Self-portrait leaning on a Sill, etching, 1639
He was a master draughtsman and printmaker and over 1000 of his drawings survive. Rembrandt's foremost contribution in the history of printmaking was his transformation of the etching process from a relatively new reproductive technique into a true art form.

Rembrandt was the master of the pre- camera selfie, painting at least 64 self-portraits. Experts suggest he suffered from stereo-blindness, an inability to gauge depth perception.

Rembrandt was the head of a large studio operation. He staged scenes in his studio and then painted them, his art inevitably hinting at some inner drama.

His first signed and dated painting, The Stoning of St Stephen, was painted in 1625 at the age of 19.

The Stoning of Saint Stephen, 1625,

Rembrandt established his name with his 1632 painting Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632. This work established his name and made him famous. It gave Rembrandt access to the moneyspinning society portrait paintings.

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632

In 1635 Rembrandt, painted his large scale masterpiece Belschazzar's Feast. It was the Dutch artist's attempt to establish himself as a painter of large, baroque history paintings.

The look of surprise of King Belschazzar and others as the hand wrote the prophecy was striking. However Rembrandt mistranscribed one of the Hebrew characters of the Hebrew inscription the hand is writing. (He obtained his information from a book by his Jewish friend, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.) Rembrandt also mistakenly arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written.

Belshassar's Feast, 1636-8

Rembrandt's most famous work is arguably The Night Watch, which he painted in 1642. But despite its nickname, it is actually a painting that depicts broad daylight. The dark background that led to the misunderstanding was a varnish that turned almost black with age and dirt.

The Night Watch or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, 1642
Rembrandt's immediate family — his  wife Saskia, son Titus, and mistress Hendrickje — often figured prominently in his paintings.


Rembrandt had a huge frame, crumpled face, curly fringe, puffball hair, a root vegetable nose and mottled skin.

In his Self Portrait with a Plumed Beret painted in 1629 at the age of 23, Rembrandt is wearing an outrageous feathered hat.

Rembrandt with plumed beret, by Rembrandt

A contemporary noted "The ugly and plebeian face with which he is ill-favored is accompanied by untidy and dirty clothes."


In the early 1630s Rembrandt moved into the house of his art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburgh. This move eventually led, in 1634, to the marriage of Rembrandt and Hendrick's wealthy niece, Saskia van Uylenburg.

Saskia by Rembrandt. (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Saskia and Rembrandt married on July 2, 1634, in Sint Annaparochie, the principal and largest settlement of the municipality of Het Bildt in Friesland, the Netherlands. The preacher was Saskia's cousin, but none of Rembrandt's family attended the marriage.

A daughter of a patrician, Saskia introduced Rembrandt to higher social circles, which increased his fame.

Three of their children died shortly after birth. Their fourth child, a son, Titus, was born in 1641 and survived into adulthood.

Saskia died on June 14. 1642 soon after Titus' birth, from tuberculosis.

In 1645, Hendrickje Stoffels, who had initially been Rembrandt's maidservant, moved in with him.

In 1654 Rembandt and Hendrickje had a daughter, Cornelia, bringing them an official reproach from the church for "living in sin". Hendrickje admitted that she had "committed the acts of a whore with Rembrandt the painter" and was banned from receiving communion.

Portrait of Hendrikje Stoffels, c.1654-6,

Hendrickje Stoffel died of bubonic plague on July 21, 1663. She was buried in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

Rembrandt outlived Hendrickje and Titus. In the end, only his daughter Cornelia was at his side.


In 1639, Rembrandt and Saskia moved to a prominent four storey house 4-6 Jodenbreestraat in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, which later became the Rembrandt House Museum.

Rembrandthuis, Jodenbreestraat, Amsterdam. By M.Minderhoud  wikipedia

When Rembrandt was fifty-two, he had to sell his Jodenbreestraat home after being made bankrupt. The artist moved with his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels, their young daughter Cornelia and Rembrandt’s seventeen-year-old son Titus to a little rented four- roomed house on the Rozengracht canal. Here, Hendrickje and Titus started an art shop to make ends meet.


While Rembrandt's work reveals a deep Christian faith, there is no evidence that the Dutch artist formally belonged to any church. However, he had five of his children christened in Dutch Reformed churches in Amsterdam.


Rembrandt died October 4, 1669, in Amsterdam in poverty and was buried in an unknown grave in the Westerkerk.

After twenty years, Rembrandt's remains were taken away and destroyed, as was customary with the remains of poor people at the time.

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