About the story
Despite Rembrandt being born in Leiden, Amsterdam played a major role in the life of this famous artist. Rembrandt first came to Amsterdam when he was 18 years old. A few years later he moved permanently to Amsterdam, a real metropolis in the 17th century. If you visit Rembrandts Amsterdam, you will get an old map of Amsterdam as it looked in the 17th century. With this map you can follow a 3-4 hour route through the city, passing well-known places that played an important role in Rembrandt’s life.
Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden in 1606. His parents worked in a mill, but Rembrandt saw his future differently: he wished to become a painter. Having taken up painting lessons from Jacob Van Swanenburg at an early age, Rembrandt first came to Amsterdam at age 18. He was apprenticed to the painter Pieter Lastman, on the Antonie Breestraat, near the Zuiderkerk.
After his studies with Pieter Lastman, Rembrandt returned to Leiden and started his atelier (workshop) together with his good friend Jan Lievens. A few years later, he settled in Amsterdam and started to work for the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburg, who kept his studio next to the now-famous ‘Rembrandthuis’ where Rembrandt lived for 19 years.
The Waag on the Nieuwmarkt played an important role in Rembrandt’s story in Amsterdam. At the start of his career, Rembrandt not only became a member of the St. Lucas painters’ guild in De Waag, but he would also make one of his most famous paintings here: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. This was one of Rembrandt’s first paintings for a guild (a surgeon’s guild in this case). He would later paint for the clothmakers’ guild (De staalmeesters) en voor het schuttersgilde (De Nachtwacht).
Amsterdam’s most recognizable square is still Dam Square (de Dam), although it looked rather different in Rembrandt’s time. The new city hall (now the Royal Palace) was under construction during Rembrandt’s lifetime. In the middle of the square was the Waag building with its seven doors, where goods were weighed. On the side of the Rokin was an imposing exchange building; the Koopmansbeurs. The building with its characteristic tower was designed by city architect Hendrick de Keyser. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Koopmansbeurs was the most important trading center in the world, and is considered to be the very first stock exchange.
In 1658, Rembrandt declared bankruptcy. He was forced to give up his grand residence (the Rembrandthuis) and his household effects were auctioned off. In order to ward off creditors, Rembrandt’s wife Hendrickje and son Titus legally became his employers. This enabled him to continue his work as a painter. Rembrandt and his family moved into a house on the Rozengracht, near the Westerkerk. At the time, this neighbourhood was a kind of new housing estate in Amsterdam. During this period, Rembrandt produced many of his best paintings, his ‘latest works’. These paintings had a different style than his earlier work and contradicted the fine, detailed style of painting that was popular at the time. Rembrandt experimented with powerful brushstrokes and light. This enabled him to bring emotional depth to his work.