Rembrandt / 2019

The Golden Age was a period of great prosperity for the Netherlands. Most visitors are familiar with the seventeenth-century canals and the works by the Dutch masters in the Rijksmuseum. What visitors may not know is that the Golden Age is still very much alive in Leiden.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age was a period of great prosperity for the Dutch Republic. Trade began to flourish with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Amsterdam. In Leiden welfare started at the arrival of some 40.000 refugees from all over Europe, making Leiden famous for its cloth industry and scientific discoveries. The rich history of Leiden is still visible in the form of townhouses, canals, museums, churches and its university. The Golden Age was also era of the famous Dutch Masters, the most renowned of which being Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, and Jan Steen. The beauty of their realistic portraits and representations of everyday life forever changed the art of painting. 

The year 2019 is the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt's death. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on 15 July 1606 in Leiden, in the Weddesteeg. He was the ninth child born to Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn and Neeltgen Willemsdochter van Zuijtbrouck. His family was quite well-to-do; his father was a miller and his mother was a baker's daughter. Religion is a central theme in Rembrandt's paintings and the religiously fraught period in which he lived, makes his faith a matter of interest. His mother was Roman Catholic, and his father belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. 

Curriculum vitae

As a boy, he attended Latin school and was enrolled at the University of Leiden, although according to a contemporary he had a greater inclination towards painting; he was soon apprenticed to a Leiden history painter, Jacob van Swanenburgh, with whom he spent three years. After a brief but important apprenticeship of six months with the painter Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam, Rembrandt opened a studio in Leiden in 1624 or 1625, which he shared with friend and colleague Jan Lievens. In 1627, Rembrandt began to accept students, among them Gerrit Dou in 1628.

It was during Rembrandt's Leiden period (1625-1631) that Lastman's influence was most prominent. It is also likely that at this time Lievens had a strong impact on his work as well. Paintings were rather small, but rich in details (for example, in costumes and jewelry). Religious and allegorical themes were favoured, as were tronies. In 1626 Rembrandt produced his first etchings, the wide dissemination of which would largely account for his international fame. In 1629 he completed 'Judas Repentant, Returning the Pieces of Silver' and 'The Artist in His Studio', works that evidence his interest in the handling of light and variety of paint application, and constitute the first major progress in his development as a painter. 

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Two self-portrait sketches made by Rembrandt

In 1629, Rembrandt was discovered by the statesman Constantijn Huygens (father of the Dutch mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens), who procured Rembrandt's important commissions from the court of The Hague. Because of this connection, Prince Frederik Hendrik continued to purchase paintins from Rembrandt until 1646. At the end of 1631 Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, then rapidly expanding as the new business capital of the Netherlands, and began to practice as a professional portraitist for the first time, with great success. 

Leiden, 2019

At Museum the Lakenhal in Leiden a large exhibition on Rembrandt will mark the anniversary by a grand opening of the museum. Many of his works dating from the Leiden period will be exposed, among which the oldest known painting of Rembrandt, the Brillenverkoper. This painting is part of a series of five oil paintings, completed around 1624 or 1625, depicting the five senses. The whereabouts of one, representing the sense of taste, is unknown. Another, representing smell, was only re-identified in 2015. Rembrandt was around eighteen years old when the paintings were made; they are his earliest surviving works, and are of identical size.

Leiden will present a true Rembrandt Experience. Apart from the museum, visitors can visit Rembrandt's place of birth, the Latin School, the University and the workshop where Rembrandt was taught by Jacob van Swanenburgh. On Rembrandt's birthday, the 15th of July, 2.000 to 3.000 people will shape into a large Rembrandt self-portrait, filmed from the air.

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