Although we’ve been to Amsterdam a few times now, we had never been to Rembrandt’s House. In fact, I admit that we didn’t know much about him or his work. But last year Mark bought us tickets to a documentary called “Rembrandt: The Late Works” as part of our vacation planning to return to Amsterdam. With it, we gained a newfound appreciation for the artist and his life.
Upon our return to Amsterdam, we made a point of going to Rembrandt House. The museum is set up similar to the Anne Frank house, in that a modern annex has been built next to the home, which is where you enter first to get your tickets.
The tour starts on the lower floor, where you can hang up your coat, grab a locker for your bags, and grab an audio guide.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606 into a fairly wealthy family in Leiden. At the age of 14 he enrolled into the University of Leiden. He loved painting, and apprenticed under a history painter for three years. Around 1624 or 1625 Rembrandt opened his own studio with a friend. A few years later, he started accepting students of his own.
In 1631 Rembrandt moved from Leiden to Amsterdam and expanded his business. Initially he stayed with an art dealer named Hendrick van Uylenburgh. Through Hendrick, Rembrandt met Saskia van Uylenburgh, Hendrick’s cousin. Saskia and Rembrandt got married in 1634, and he used Saskia as his model for several portraits.
Rembrandt purchased this house, now known as the Rembrandt House Museum, in 1639 for 13,000 guilders. This was a large amount of money at the time.
Rembrandt was already a popular and well established artist at this point in his life. In fact, he purchased the house in the same year he was commissioned to paint the Night Watch, one of his most famous paintings.
Although Rembrandt’s career was going well, he wasn’t great with money, and tended to spend more than he made.
Unfortunately Rembrandt soon found himself in financial trouble, and he couldn’t pay his debts. He was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 1656 his belongings were inventoried and sold off, and in 1658 the house followed suit. Rembrandt was forced to move into a more modest abode where he lived out his remaining years.
I can only imagine what the auction was like for the stuff in this room, dubbed the “Art Cabinet”:
Rembrandt was quite a collector of curious odds and ends, including weapons, Roman antiquities, and seashells. (Interestingly, Rembrandt himself never travelled outside of the Dutch Republic). He used many of the items to teach his pupils how to draw or paint various objects.
We weren’t long into the audio tour before a fellow came in to announce that there was an etching demonstration in Rembrandt’s former graphic workshop in a few minutes. We had arrived first thing in the morning, and we were glad we did. There were only 8-10 people in the museum, and the workshop was small. It could maybe hold 16 people, maximum.
The printmaker showed how copper plates would have been scratched using a special etching tool to create burrs in the metal, which would hold the ink rubbed into the creases. The remaining ink was then rubbed off carefully, then the plate was placed in the contraption below for pressing:
A plate could be re-used a few times, but not indefinitely. Eventually, the scratches in the metal would dull and blur over time. I was glad we were able to catch the demonstration, it was so educational!
The museum also has demonstrations on paintmaking, which are made by mixing dry pigments with solvents by hand. We had just missed the demonstration, but I thought the media alone were beautiful even without seeing the demo:
And if you fancy yourself an artist, they offer various classes in drawing as well. On the day we were there, they were going to teach a class in “drawing ears and eyes”. But, we decided against it this time. If we were going to try our hand at being artists, we wanted to create something complete, not just a few disjointed body parts. Still, if you have the time and inclination, it would make a great souvenir!
In the modern annex, there are rotating art exhibits to peruse before heading back to the entrance. Make sure to check out the small but charming gift shop before you leave. For more information on admission and hours, check out the Rembrandt House website.
(Post updated March 2018)