Rembrandt van Rijn
Dutch, 1606 - 1669
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn , Rembrandt


Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, born 15 July 1606 in Leiden, was the son of a miller, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn (1568-1630), and his wife Neeltgen van Zuytbrouck (1568-1640). The youngest son of at least ten children, Rembrandt was not expected to carry on his father's business. Since the family was prosperous enough, they sent him to the Leiden Latin School, where he remained for seven years. In 1620 he enrolled briefly at the University of Leiden, perhaps to study theology. Orlers (see person bibliography), Rembrandt's first biographer, however, related that because "by nature he was moved toward the art of painting and drawing," he left the University to study the fundamentals of painting with the Leiden artist Jacob Isaacsz. van Swanenburgh (1571-1638). After three years with this master, Rembrandt left for Amsterdam in 1624, where he studied for six months under Pieter Lastman (1583-1633), the most important history painter of the day.

After returning to Leiden Rembrandt quickly developed a reputation as a history painter and portraitist. By 1628 his work, and that of his colleague in Leiden, Jan Lievens (1609-1674), was enthusiastically praised by the secretary to the Prince of Orange, Constantijn Huygens (1596-1674). Huygens admired particularly Rembrandt's uncanny ability to convey feeling through gesture and expression and through dramatic contrasts of light and dark. That same year, Rembrandt, at the age of twenty-two, took on his first pupils, Gerard Dou (1613-1675) and Isaac Jouderville (1612-1645/1648). Documents indicate that Jouderville paid Rembrandt 100 guilders a year to study with him.

By 1631 Rembrandt had become financially involved with the Amsterdam art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh (c. 1587-1661). The nature of Van Uylenburgh's enterprise, which was called "an academy" in its day, is not entirely understood, but it appears that he orchestrated an active art studio that specialized in portrait commissions. In any event, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam around 1632, living with Van Uylenburgh and running his "academy" until 1635. Rembrandt achieved tremendous success. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting. Artists who had previously been trained elsewhere, including Jacob Backer (1608-1651), Govaert Flinck (1615-1660), and Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680), came to work during these years at Van Uylenburgh's studio under Rembrandt's guidance.

In 1633 Rembrandt became engaged to Van Uylenburgh's niece, Saskia (1612-1642), daughter of a wealthy and prominent Frisian family. They married the following year. In 1639, at the height of his success, Rembrandt purchased a large house on the Sint-Anthonisbreestraat in Amsterdam for a considerable amount of money. To acquire the house, however, he had to borrow heavily, a debt that would eventually figure in his financial debacles of the mid-1650s. Rembrandt and Saskia had four children, but only Titus, born in 1641, survived infancy. After a long illness Saskia died in 1642, the very year Rembrandt painted The Night Watch (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).

During the 1640s life became more unsettled for Rembrandt. Geertje Dirckx (1600/1610-1656?) soon entered the household as a nurse for Titus and became a companion for Rembrandt. In 1649 Rembrandt dismissed her and entered into a life-long relationship with Hendrickje Stoffels (1626-1663). While Hendrickje seems to have been a warm and caring companion for Rembrandt, the early 1650s were fraught with personal turmoil. Rembrandt and Geertje Dirckx became embroiled in a number of contentious law suits that give the impression that the artist treated his former mistress quite badly. Rembrandt and Hendrickje never married because of stipulations in Saskia's will, but that situation caused Hendrickje public humiliation when she became pregnant in 1654. She was called before a council of the Dutch Reformed Church and censored for having "lived with Rembrandt like a whore." Their daughter Cornelia was baptized on 30 October 1654.

Financial difficulties also beset Rembrandt during these years, and he was forced to declare insolvency in 1656. His estate, including his large art collection, was auctioned in 1657 and 1658. Rembrandt then moved to an artist's quarter in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, eventually renting a relatively small house on the Rozengracht where he lived for the rest of his life. Hendrickje and Titus subsequently formed a business partnership to protect him from further demands by creditors.

Although Rembrandt did receive a number of important portrait commissions during the late 1650s and early 1660s, stylistic trends had veered away from his deeply personal manner of painting. He became more and more isolated from the mainstreams of Dutch art. No students are documented to have worked with him during the latter half of the 1650s, and only one student, Aert de Gelder (1645-1727), is known to have come to study with him in the 1660s.

Rembrandt's financial situation remained poor during the 1660s. He owed a substantial amount of money, in particular to the art dealer and collector Lodewijk van Ludick, a debt he hoped to repay with the money he would receive from his large painting for one of the lunettes in the Amsterdam Town Hall, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (National Museum, Stockholm). Rembrandt's composition, however, was rejected by city authorities in 1662. To try to raise funds he was then forced to sell Saskia's grave in the Oude Kerk. He never regained financial solvency, and existed during the last years of his life by living on the savings of his daughter Cornelia.

Although Rembrandt remained famous as an artist, there were many burdens in his personal life during his last years. In 1663 a plague that ravaged Amsterdam claimed the life of Hendrickje. Four years later Titus married Madgalena van Loo (1642-1669), but the following year, in 1668, he also died, the victim of another plague epidemic. When Rembrandt died on 4 October 1669, he was buried in an unknown rented grave in the Westerkerk, Amsterdam. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]


Orlers, Jan Jansz. Beschrijvinge der Stadt Leyden. 2nd. ed. Leiden, 1641: 375.
Houbraken, Arnold. De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen. 3 vols. in 1. The Hague, 1753 (Reprint: Amsterdam, 1976): 1:254-273.
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 7(1836).
Imperial Hermitage Museum. Album de l'Ermitage Imperial; reproductions photographiques publiées avec l'autorisation de l'Empereur par Charles Röttger. 6 pts. in 2 vols. Saint Petersburg, 1890s.
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Chapman, H. Perry. Rembrandt's Self-Portraits: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Identity. Princeton, 1990.
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A Collection of Etchings by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn formed by Joseph R. Ritman. Sotheby's and Artemis, 1995.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1995: 204-210.
Blankert, Albert. Rembrandt: A Genius and his Impact. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Zwolle, 1997.
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Crenshaw, Paul. Rembrandt's bankruptcy: the artist, his patrons, and the art market in seventeenth-century Netherlands. Cambridge and New York, 2006.