After seeing his fellow Dutchman’s paintings at the new Rijksmuseum in 1885, a smitten Vincent van Gogh wrote, “Rembrandt goes so deep into the mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language.”
Rembrandt continues to speak to us — so much so that his 400th birthday is the occasion for a yearlong fete in the Netherlands. Art exhibits, walking tours, and even theatrical events about the artist’s love life and genius are part of the celebration.
The birthday bash opens in Amsterdam, where, from a replica of the artist’s Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul painted on the 17th century church where he is buried, Rembrandt looks upon the city like a rock star. Here’s how to join the celebration:
To augment his income, Rembrandt took in more than 40 pupils. Some of them did such a good job imitating their famed teacher that their works were misattributed to the old master. “Really Rembrandt?” at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, showcases these excellent fakes (through May 24).
The museum’s 60 Rembrandt drawings are also exhibited in “The Storyteller” (August 11 – October 11) and “The Observer” (October 14 – December 31). Along with the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum owns the world’s largest collection of Rembrandts.
Van Gogh Museum
Next door, the Van Gogh Museum is a stylish setting for “Rembrandt-Caravaggio” (through June 18), in which Rembrandt and Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), two geniuses of northern and southern Europe, “meet” for the first time.
Though Rembrandt never left Holland, he is widely believed to have been influenced by his Italian counterpart’s dramatic use of light and dark. Among the 25 monumental works on display are Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus from London and Rembrandt’s The Blinding of Samson from Frankfurt. Tickets are available at www.rembrandt-caravaggio.nl.
Concurrent to the Rembrandt-Caravaggio blockbuster is a small, but moving, exhibit dedicated to Rembrandt’s influence on the other Dutch master, Vincent van Gogh. Months before his suicide, van Gogh interpreted Rembrandt’s etching The Raising of Lazarus into an oil painting. This haunting work is among the two dozen paintings, drawings and letters on display through June 18.
The Rembrandt House Museum
In honor of its famous resident’s 400th birthday, the museum presents a series of exhibits, most notably “Rembrandt: The Quest of a Genius” (April 1 – July 2). Over 50 paintings and 50 drawings from the 20-year period when Rembrandt lived and worked in the stately house return home.
Since its beginning nearly a century ago, the museum has amassed one of the finest collections of Rembrandt’s etchings. “Rembrandt, the etcher” (July 8 – September 3) thematically displays the innovative works that made him famous in his own time and inspired generations of later artists, including Goya and Picasso.
Art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh launched Rembrandt’s career and introduced the talented artist to his young cousin, Saskia Uylenburgh, who would become Rembrandt’s wife. “Uylenburgh & Son, Art and Commerce in Rembrandt’s Time” (September 14 – December 10) presents an overview of paintings the dealer sold, including over 20 Rembrandts, together with works by Rembrandt’s competitors, Antonie van Dyck, Govert Flinck, Caspar Netscher and Gerard Lairesse.
The Mauritshuis Museum
Another wonderful setting for Rembrandt’s work is the Mauritshuis Museum, at The Hague. Built as a residence for Johan Maurits van Nassau, the elegant mansion houses an exquisite art collection that includes Johannes Vermeer’s much-loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft. Two stories of intimate rooms make this museum feel more like a private art collection.
During “A Summer with Rembrandt” (June 26 – September 18) the museum displays its 10 Rembrandts, including three newly restored works: the artist’s last Self-portrait, Homer and Simeon’s Song of Praise, considered the highpoint of Rembrandt’s Leiden years. Also among the paintings isThe Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, the first of Rembrandt’s large, prestigious commissions. Like The Night Watch, the painting demonstrates the artist’s gift for infusing group portraits with action and suspense.
Rembrandt was born July 15, 1606, in the university town of Leiden. Though the van Rijn home is gone, it’s still possible to walk the cobbled streets of the historical city center to some of Rembrandt’s early haunts — the Latin School he attended as a boy; the studio of Jacob van Swanenburgh, his first painting teacher; and Peter’s Church, where his parents are buried.
After a six-month apprenticeship in Amsterdam, 18-year-old Rembrandt returned to Leiden, where, early on, he created paintings that reflected the influence of his teacher in Amsterdam, Pieter Lastman.
Rembrandt’s meticulous religious paintings inspired his student Gerrit Dou who, with other followers such as Frans van Mieris, Sr., went on to establish the Leiden school of fine painters.
In Rembrandt’s day, Leiden cloth (woven fabrics, typically broadcloth) became famous throughout Europe. Inspectors sampled the cloth at the Lakenhal, now Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, and Leiden’s municipal museum.
In honor of its favorite son, the museum offers “Rembrandt the Storyteller,” former art collector Frits Lugt’s entire collection of Rembrandt etchings (April 13 – September 3). And, for the first time, Rembrandt’s powerful landscapes can be seen collectively during “Rembrandt’s Landscapes” (October 6 – January 7, 2007).
When Rembrandt moved to Holland’s capital in 1631, the prosperous trading powerhouse was undergoing a real estate boom. Rembrandt lived in two of the new sections, the northwestern Jordaan and eastern Nieuwmarkt. With a special walking-tour map in hand, visitors can experience these and other locations that played an important role in Rembrandt’s adult life.
The artist’s presence can be felt inside the Rembrandt House, especially in his studio, where light streams through the north-facing window onto a large easel. Though Rembrandt’s career flourished here, tragedy continued to strike. After losing three of his four children earlier, Rembrandt’s wife Saskia died after three years in the house, and is buried in the nearby Oude Kerk.
Rembrandt’s lavish lifestyle eventually forced him to auction his art collection, declare bankruptcy and move to a more modest house on Rozengracht. Undaunted, Rembrandt continued painting his series of famous self-portraits, as well as portraits of longtime-companion Hendrickje Stoffels and his son, Titus. These last works are among his most beautiful.
Rembrandt’s dramatic life comes to stage this summer. Rembrandt, The Musical, at the Royal Carré Theatre (www.theatercarre.nl), focuses on the artist’s turbulent personal life. Characters from Rembrandt’s most-famous painting come to life June 2 – August 6 in Nightwatching, a theatrical installation of images and sound at the Rijksmuseum (www.rijksmuseum.nl), by Welsh director Peter Greenaway.
When Rembrandt died, broke, in 1669, he was buried unceremoniously in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the Westerkerk. He’d likely be amused that in the imposing entrance hall of his house, once lined with paintings for potential buyers, his Minerva, protector of painters, now hangs. Asking price: $46 million.
If You Go
Amsterdam Rembrandt Events
Rembrandt walking-tour booklets are available at Amsterdam tourism offices and the Rembrandt Reception Hall, next to the Lakenhal, in Leiden.
I Amsterdam Card
Available online, the I amsterdam card includes free museum admission and public transportation.
Train schedules between Amsterdam, Leiden and The Hague