Rembrandt was not only a celebrated artist and teacher, he was also an avid collector of art and all kinds of inspirational objects. These objects were kept in a room in Rembrandt’s house that was designed solely for this purpose: the art room. Every week, we highlight an object from Rembrandt’s own collection. This week: a stuffed bird-of-paradise.
Left: a stuffed bird-of-paradise. Right: Rembrandt, Two birds-of-paradise, c. 1639, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Rembrandt owned many artistic and man-made object (so-called ‘artificialia’) that served as sources of inspiration and attributes for his art. But he also collected ‘naturalia’, as we know from his inventory that was made in 1656. ‘Naturalia’ is the overall term for natural objects such as shells, corals, sea urchins, different kinds of rocks and fossils, stuffed fish and animals, or the hard parts of animals, such as bones, teeth, armors, beaks, skulls, eggs, feathers and skins. Besides some minerals and other small things, Rembrandt had 47 natural objects from the land and the sea and 23 stuffed animals. In the small studio, where Rembrandt’s pupils worked, he also kept a variety of objects, amongst which the horns of a deer.
A very special object that is listed in the inventory, is a bird-of-paradise. Together with six fans, it was kept in a wooden box in Rembrandt’s art room. Birds-of-paradise were costly exotic objects that were brought to the Netherlands by ships of the West Indies Trade Company in the seventeenth century. Having arrived here, they were sold as luxurious pieces of decoration. We can find them in (the inventory of) every large collection. The story goes that these birds didn’t have legs and were doomed to keep flying their entire lives. In reality, their legs were cut off in Asia during the preparation of the animal, or sown into the body.