Like many of his Dutch contemporaries, Rembrandt often turned his attention to scenes from daily life. At first glance, these images seem to have been inspired directly by the people and events Rembrandt saw around him. Yet their apparent simplicity is deceptive, and some of his humblest genre scenes reveal important information about Rembrandt's artistic methods. Many of the images once thought to be drawn from life, such as his etchings of beggars, in fact reflect the work of earlier artists, including Albrecht Dürer and Jacques Callot. Other scenes have allegorical or even mythological overtones. Similarly, the nudes and studio scenes — more than just straightforward depictions of the human figure — provide fascinating insights into the way Rembrandt constructed his pictures.
Rembrandt's genre prints and drawings, like his other works on paper, have found an eager audience almost since their creation. According to an inventory compiled in 1680, collector and fellow artist Jan van de Cappelle (c. 1624 – 1679) owned hundreds of drawings by Rembrandt, including an album devoted to women and children. These sketches served Rembrandt originally as both an artistic exercise and a source of further ideas for figures in his etchings and paintings. In his genre prints and drawings, as in his other art, his ability to imbue even the simplest of subjects — elderly peasants, mendicants, scholars — with profound emotion lends a weight and significance that sometimes provokes centuries of speculation over the precise meaning.