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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam

What is the Rembrandt House Museum?

The Rembrandt House Museum is a museum in Amsterdam that’s in an early-17th-century house where one of the world's greatest artists painted such masterpieces as ‘The Night Watch’.

Rembrandt House Museum

Remi Mathis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Museum Het Rembrandthuis

It’s always fascinating to visit a historic house that has been sympathetically preserved, and to imagine what life would have been like for the owners in centuries gone by. This is certainly the case for the evocative Rembrandt House Museum, home of Dutch Golden Age painter, printmaker and draughtsman, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, most often known simply by his first name. He’s generally considered to be the most important artist in Dutch history, as well as being one of the greatest visual artists ever.

This centrally located three-storey canal house was built in 1606, in what was then the new and fashionable eastern part of the city, a neighbourhood that was popular with artists. The population in this part of Amsterdam was heterogeneous and diverse.

After achieving success in his birthplace of Leiden, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631, a global centre of culture and the arts. He was an ambitious 25-year-old and a recognised rising star of the Dutch art world. The young artist was able to buy this house in 1639, due to the fortune of his wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, the wealthy niece of an art dealer. Although the artist ran a large and thriving studio here, his work fell out of fashion and in 1656 he was bankrupted, and the house and its effects sold to pay creditors. Rembrandt moved to the cheaper Jordaan neighbourhood. The debt collectors’ itemised lists of the household contents have been a great help in recreating his home with impressive authenticity, and the museum was officially opened by Queen Wilhelmina in 1911.

Rembrandt House Museum Exterior

Bysmon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ground floor contains Rembrandt’s living room and bedroom. It’s interesting to note his box-bed, which allowed him to sleep sitting up. Beds like this were common at the time, as it was believed that sleeping in such a position prevented death during the night. There’s a further room where Rembrandt received his clients and this is hung with paintings by his pupils, contemporaries and teacher, Pieter Lastman.

Rembrandt maintained his studio on the house’s first floor, while his students occupied spaces on the second. The studio faces north and therefore provides ideal natural light for an artist. Upstairs there’s also a small room containing his etchings. The museum owns examples of nearly all that he produced, around 260 out of the 290 that are known, and a selection of these is on rotating display. Etching techniques are demonstrated several times a day. Another room or ‘cabinet’ contains items he collected and used as props in his works, such as Roman busts, seashells and glassware. A modern annex next to the house contains further displays based around Rembrandt’s life and work. This charming historic house museum and gallery offers you the chance to learn about the life, methods and inspiration of the most significant artist in Dutch history.

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