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AMSTERDAM: The Rembrandt Museum

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 – 1669) - was in his time a well known Dutch painter and etcher. He is in fact generally considered to be one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history!

Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. However, his etchings and paintings proved popular throughout his lifetime, and his reputation as an artist remained high.

Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. 

His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. Furthermore, his contributions to art came in a period that historians now call the Dutch Golden Age.

You can get to know a little of Rembrandt personally by visiting the home and studio on Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam. In this once fashionable, jewel of a house many of his famous masterpieces were made.

 But, unlike other local museums such as the Ann Frank house, the interior of the house has been restored to its former 17th-century glory and the rooms have been refurnished with works of art, furniture and other objects from Rembrandt's time. How was this achieved? Well, in order to finance the property Rembrandt took out a rather large mortgage of 13,000 guilders. 

Unfortunately, Rembrandt had a tendancy to live beyond his means, buying art (including bidding up his own work), prints (often used in his paintings), and other historic rarities.

However it was reckless acts such as these which probably caused his financial downfall resulting in a court arrangement to avoid his bankruptcy in 1656. 

During this period of financial hardship he was no longer able to keep up the payments on his house on Jodenbreestraat and as an attempt to stave off bankruptcy had an inventory made of all of this possessions prior to auctioning them off. 

Realistically, if Rembrandt hadn't wasted much of his money he should have easily been able to pay the house off with his large income during the early years.

But it appears - like so many of us - that his outgoings always managed to keep pace with his income.

It was this inventory of his huge collection of paintings, sculptures and art treasures that enabled the Rembrandt museum to sympathetically refurbish his property to the standard that you see today.

The prices realized in the sales of Rembrandts possessions in 1657 and 1658 were disappointing so Rembrandt was forced to sell his house and his printing-press and move to a more modest accommodation on the Rozengracht in 1660. 

The authorities and his creditors were generally accommodating to him, except for the Amsterdam painters' guild, who introduced a new rule that no one in Rembrandt's circumstances could trade as a painter. 

To get round this, Rembrandts son Titus set up business with his wife as art-dealers in 1660, with Rembrandt as an employee.

Rembrandts work

Few artists of any period were as renowned for the use of light and shadow as Rembrandt. 

His seemingly limitless variations of bold and subtle shadings cast him as a ‘magician of light and shadow.’ 

In a letter to Huyghens, Rembrandt offered the only surviving explanation of what he sought to achieve through his art:

'....the greatest and most natural movement...'

translated from de meeste en de natuurlijkste beweegelijkheid. The word 'beweechgelickhijt' is also argued to mean emotion or motive. 

Whether this refers to objectives, material or otherwise is open to interpretation; either way, Rembrandt seamlessly melded the earthly and spiritual as has no other painter in Western art.

Etchings and prints

In addition to his extensive oeuvre of paintings and drawings, Rembrandt van Rijn also produced around 290 prints. His mastery in this field is undisputed, and he is generally acknowledged as one of the great etchers - if not the greatest - of all time. 

Rembrandt acquired a European reputation in his own lifetime precisely because of his graphic work, which, because it could be reproduced, was much more widely known than his paintings or drawings.

Rembrandt's free use of line, the unique deep black of many of his etchings and his masterly use of the drypoint were very popular and his work was much sought after by the many print collectors of the time.

Etching was not a sideline where Rembrandt was concerned, and his prints cannot be regarded as inferior by-products of his paintings, which nowadays are much more famous. 

Rembrandt took his graphic art very seriously for almost the whole of his working life - during the early years as a young artist in Leiden, the town where he was born, and while he was in his prime as a successful master in Amsterdam. It was not until he was approaching the end of his life that he gradually gave up etching.

Luckily, you can still purchase an 'original' Rembrandt print from the Rembrandt house using the traditional method on original plates.

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AMSTERDAM: The Rembrandt Museum

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