(the Home of Rembrandt)
Now we start the visits that you'll make on your own. One of the important ones is to the home of Amsterdam's most celebrated citizen, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who first came here as a young art apprentice in 1623, and spent the remaining 46 years of his life in this very city, where he created nearly 700 paintings, 300 etchings, and 600 ink and pencil sketches—all with such genius that he is now ranked with El Greco, Raphael and Velasquez as the greatest artist of all time. A few remarks about the early fame of Rembrandt will help set the scene for a visit to his home.
Rembrandt had established himself, at the age of 26, as one of the city's most successful painters. Commissioned by a Professor Tulp to paint a group of surgeons attending a dissection, he succeeded so well in his "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp" (now hung in The Mauritshuis in The Hague) that other portrait commissions poured in by the dozens. Around the same time, he met and married a plump, pretty blonde from Friesland named Saskia van Uylen-burgh, whose dowry amounted to 40,000 florins (guilders); there followed eight years of extravagant living which culminated on the day that Rembrandt saw and fell in love with a magnificent four-story home on the Jodenbreestraat, of a splendor that few artists could normally aspire to. He purchased it on credit, incurring a heavy and continuing debt, and several years later discovered that the citizens of Amsterdam were no longer purchasing his paintings!
Part of the reason for Rembrandt's economic decline was his own increasing mastery, which made him increasingly unwilling to follow the art fashions of the time. In 1642, for instance, he was commissioned by a certain Captain Banning Coq to do a group portrait of a company of the Civil Guard of Amsterdam—a "corporate" portrait for which each person portrayed in the painting would contribute a portion of the artist's fee. Normally, these paintings gave equal prominence to each contributor, and showed them standing or sitting in one or two uniform lines. But Rembrandt had a greater vision, and portrayed the men in a moment of action, as they assembled for a parade upon the visit of Maria de Medici (the widowed queen of France) to Amsterdam. The resulting painting—the Rijkmuseum's great "Night Watch," which some acclaim as the greatest painting of all time—portrayed a number of these civilian-soldiers in shadows, obscured others entirely, cut off the bottom of one face with an outnung arm. The men of Captain Banning Coq's troop were furious, and their enraged outcries caused all Amsterdam to look upon the portrait as a failure. From that moment, paintings by Rembrandt were no longer in favor, the fortunes of the artist declined, and crushing interest payments on his expensive house soon placed him in bankruptcy. Rembrandt moved from the Jodenbreestraat to the poorer Rozengracht, and for the rest of his life was forced to evade his creditors by working as the employee of an art firm formed by his son, Titus, and his mistress (Saskia having died), Henrickje Stoffels.
Knowing all this, I think you'll experience both a chill and a thrill to visit the magnificent Rembrandthuis, at 4 Jodenbreestraat, whose interior is almost exactly as he left it. The visiting hours are from 10 to 5 on weekdays and Saturdays, from 1 to 4 on Sundays, you can reach the house by taking bus no. 11 at various points in town, or simply by walking for 10 minutes from the Dam Square (head down the Damstraat, which then becomes Doelenstraat, then Hoogstraat; as you pass the Zuiderkerk—South Church—you'll encounter St. Antoniesbreestraat, which you follow for li/£ blocks to the Rembrandthuis; it stands almost on the corner of the Zwanenburgwal canal). Inside are displayed more than 100 of Rembrandt's etchings (the largest single collection of them in the world), numerous of his sketches, his etching press, and some of his actual copperplates. But for paintings by this awesome genius, you must now turn to the Rijkmuseum, for which the Rembrandthuis serves to whet the appetite!