Rembrandt moves to Amsterdam from Leiden in 1631 as an ambitious twenty-five-year-old. At the time, Amsterdam is booming: trade by sea is becoming increasingly important, the city is growing enormously and many people are earning money like water. Rembrandt too. In a short time, he has made a name for himself as a society painter: everyone who represents something wants to be painted by him.
In 1639, Rembrandt, moves to the monumental building at number 4 Jodenbreestraat, in the heart of Amsterdam. He is still a young man of 33, just married to Saskia. They adore each other. This house is perfect for the ambitious couple. It is large, with space to live and work.
Rembrandt has everything going for him when he moves into his new house: a great love, a luxurious life and a successful career. But it won’t stay that way. Setbacks follow, both privately and financially. After 19 years he has to leave his home. He is then 52 years old. The house has now been returned to how it was in Rembrandt’s time. You can see how Rembrandt lived and worked, in good times as well as in bad times.
Rembrandt’s living room was the family’s private domain. The adults sat by the fire talking, children played in a corner. At that time there were no separate bedrooms. Rembrandt and Saskia also slept here, in the box bed. Their son is also born here. They call him Titus, after Saskia’s sister Titia. A happy moment. Only Saskia is not doing well. She falls ill and nine months later she dies. She is not yet thirty.
After Saskia’s death, Rembrandt starts a relationship with Geertje Dircx, one of the maids. This relationship ends with a fight: Rembrandt does not want to marry her, despite an earlier promise. He offers her financial compensation. But she doesn’t care for that. Geertje has to make way for a new maid who has come into the house: Hendrickje Stoffels. He stays with her for the rest of her life and has another daughter: Cornelia.
Rembrandt made his paintings in the studio. It is an ideal space for a painter, as there are four north-facing windows. Artists like this because the sun does not shine in and the light is much more even. We know roughly what the studio must have looked like, thanks to a drawing that Rembrandt made of this space.
Rembrandt was a passionate artist, always at work, always looking for innovation. In this room he experiments with dramatic lighting and loose brush strokes. And he is looking for the best way to portray people: lifelike, with emotional expression, character and depth. Rembrandt also made more than 300 different etchings. Piece by piece real works of art. He printed them in editions of ten to several dozen. He experimented with different techniques and with different types of paper. The etchings were much less expensive than the paintings and must have sold well.
All kinds of people lived in Rembrandt’s neighborhood: artists, merchants, immigrants; rich and poor side by side. Many of these people can be seen in Rembrandt’s artworks.
Rembrandt’s neighbourhood housed a fairly large community of Jews from Portugal. They came to Amsterdam for trade and religious freedom, because they were not allowed to practice their religion in Portugal. They could be prosecuted for that. Some Jewish neighbours visited Rembrandt and hired him for a commissioned portrait, such as Ephraim Bueno, a well-known doctor from Portugal. For a long time, scholars thought that Rembrandt had a special relationship with his Jewish neighbours. We’re not sure if that’s really the case. But it is striking that so many Jewish people can be seen in his paintings. They are probably neighbours who sat for his artworks.
There were also Black people living Rembrandt’s neighborhood. They formed a close-knit community. They came here as sailors, from Africa or South America, or from Portugal, as servants of a Jewish family. Rembrandt painted some of them. Black people were often stereotyped in European paintings. But Rembrandt painted his neighbours as they were.
When Rembrandt moved into the monumental house on Jodenbreestraat, he was successful, rich and famous. 19 years later, things are very different. He has huge debts. The exact cause is hard to pinpoint. What is certain, is that he cannot pay his creditors and is forced to sell his belongings and his house. At the age of 52 he moves out, together with Hendrickje, 6-year-old Cornelia and son Titus, who is now 17. It must have felt like a huge downfall for Rembrandt.
But without the forced sale of Rembrandt’s belongings, the museum would not exist. We owe the museum to a single document: a list that was drawn up before the sale, listing all of Rembrandt’s possessions, room by room. You can see this inventory list in the Epilogue Room of the museum. Thanks to this document it was possible to reconstruct Rembrandt’s house and living environment. Almost 400 years later, you can still get very close to Rembrandt.