Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn

790px-Rembrandt_van_Rijn_-_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_ProjectDutch (1606-1669), Rembrandt was born on July 15, 1606, in the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. He was the son of a miller and, despite the fact that he came from a family of relatively modest means, his parents took great care of his education. Rembrandt began his studies at the Latin School in Leiden, and by the age of 14, he was enrolled at the university of Leiden. The programs did not interest Rembrandt and he soon dropped out of the University to study fine arts first with a local master, Jacob van Swanenburch and then, in Amsterdam, with Pieter Lastman, known for his historical paintings. After six months, having mastered everything he had been taught, Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where he was so highly regarded for his skills that by the age of 22, he began teaching his first pupils. One of his students went on to become the famous Gerrit Dou.

Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631 where he met his wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, in 1634, the cousin of a successful art dealer whom enhanced his career, bringing him into contact with wealthy patrons who eagerly commissioned portraits. An exceptionally fine example from this period is the Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts (1631, Frick Collection, New York City). In addition, Rembrandt’s mythological and religious works were much in demand and he painted numerous dramatic masterpieces, such as The Blinding of Samson (1636, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt). Because Rembrandt was renowned for his teaching ability, his studio was always filled with pupils. In the 20th century, scholars have re-attributed a number of Rembrandt’s paintings to his pupils; attributing and identifying Rembrandt’s works is an active area of art scholars’ endeavors.

Rembrandt produced many of his works in his lavish town house in Amsterdam, which he purchased in 1639 at the age of 33. The townhouse became somewhat a personal tragedy with his wife and three of his children passing away in the home. After many ups and downs in the art market and Rembrandt’s habit of spending money, the home became a financial burden. In 1660, Rembrandt was forced to move. In 1911, the Dutch movement made the home a Rembrandt museum, preserving it both as a shrine of a revered national artist and as an imposing example of 17th Century Dutch architecture.

In contrast to his successful public career, Rembrandt’s family life was marked by misfortune. Between 1635-1641, Saskia gave birth to four children, but only the last, Titus, survived she passed away in 1642 at the age of 30. In 1649, Hendrickje Stoffels, who was his housekeeper, became his common-law wife and was the model for many of his pictures. Despite Rembrandt’s financial success as an artist, teacher and art dealer, his penchant for ostentatious living forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. An inventory of his collection of art and antiquities taken before an auction to pay his debts, showed the breadth of Rembrandt’s interests including ancient sculpture, Flemish and Italian Renaissance paintings, Far Eastern art, contemporary Dutch works, weapons and armor. Unfortunately, the results of the auction, including the sale of his house, were disappointing.

These problems in no way affected Rembrandt’s work. If anything, his artistry increased. Some of the great paintings from this period are The Jewish Bride (1665), The Syndics of the Cloth Guild (1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Bathsheba (1654, Louvre, Paris), Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1656, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie, Kassel, Germany) and a self-portrait (1658, Frick Collection). His personal life, however, continued to be marred by sorrow. His beloved Hendrickje died in 1663 and his son, Titus, in 1668, only 27 years of age. On October 4, 1669, Rembrandt passed away in Amsterdam.