When visiting Amsterdam you can’t help but realise that the greatest Masters of the world wandered along the same canals and took the same route as you are today. And yes, you’re bound to follow the footsteps of Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Even today, his presence is still everywhere in the heart of the Dutch capital. Take a look at a few places that mattered most to Rembrandt during his life, and how they influenced some of his most celebrated paintings and drawings.
This week is a very special ‘Rembrandt Week’. Although you could argue that every week is a special Rembrandt week in Amsterdam, this week something really special will start. The Rijksmuseum is having Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch restored. In full view of the public. Instead of hiding away the giant painting for years to come while restoration takes place, the Rijksmuseum has decided that the public is allowed to see what it takes to revamp one of the world’s most famous paintings. During a tour in Rijksmuseum, you will definitely learn more about Rembrandt’s work, his style and his unique ways to work with light, composition and structure.
Rembrandt in Amsterdam
Although Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in Leiden and moved to Amsterdam at the age of 25, it’s fair to say that the Dutch capital has taken him as their own. He is arguably the most celebrated painter to come out of the Dutch Golden Age, and his presence in Amsterdam is felt passionately by both locals and visitors alike. His greatest works were composed there, and his life in the city would take on phenomenal highs and tragic lows before his death in 1669.
Today, of course, you’ll see Rembrandt’s influence splashed across all corners of Amsterdam, and his works can be found in a variety of galleries, museums and churches, including his most famous works at the Rijksmuseum. However, to get a real taste of Rembrandt’s life and times, visiting the buildings and parts of the city that he frequented I can recommend joining a guided tour to get greater insight in Rembrandt’s life and work.
Places in Amsterdam that mattered most to Rembrandt
A few years after Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam, he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, a Frysian cousin of Prince Frederik Hendrik. His connection to the prince was one of the reasons he soon made his name in the city. Success came pretty easily during those years. In 1639, Rembrandt and Saskia moved into an upscale newbuild in Breestraat, now called Jodenbreestraat. Today, the building is the Rembrandt House, which is both a historic house and art museum dedicated the life and work of Rembrandt. Rembrandt’s House wasn’t a happy one, unfortunately. Rembrandt and Saskia lose two children before they move into the house and they lose a third, Cornelia, in 1640 after she lived for only a month. Only 2 years later Rembrandt loses Saskia, who dies at just 29 years old of tuberculosis, after the birth of their son Titus. Unsurprisingly, his drawings from his wife declined in health, are powerful and moving.
De Waag and Nieuwmarkt
De Waag is among the oldest non-religious building still standing in Amsterdam, and was an important landmark in Rembrandt’s life and work. The former city gate building served as a weighing house for a huge number of goods imported and exported from Amsterdam during Dutch colonial times. Around 20 years before Rembrandt arrived Amsterdam, the bustling Nieuwmarkt had been created by covering the canal on either side of the building. After this, a number of guilds were added to the top of the original building, including the surgeon’s guild that would provide Rembrandt’s inspiration for The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. This work of Rembrandt, as well as Johan Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, can be seen in Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Rembrandt’s paintings often dealt with religious themes, but there is no known evidence of him being part of a church. That being said, he was a regular at Oude Kerk. And all of his children were christened there. Saskia is also buried at Oude Kerk, and her grave can still be visited today. Oude Kerk is also the oldest building in Amsterdam, dating back to the 13th century. It’s historical importance to the city would become very significant for Rembrandt. Today, you can visit a small Rembrandt exhibit in the Holy Sepulchre and the shrine to Saskia is also maintained.
Whenever I think of Rembrandt I think of the ‘Bon Vivant’ he was after losing Saskia, drinking and spending lots of money on art and rarities. I also think of his mistress Hendrickje whom he couldn’t get married to, as he wouldn’t get an allowance from Saskia’s wealthy family if he remarried. With Hendrickje, he has a daughter, Cornelia. By 1660 Rembrandt was almost financially ruined and forced to sell his home and workspace in Breestraat en move to Rozengracht. These days it’s one of the richest areas in Amsterdam, but back then it was a part of town populated by the working classes. To make matters worse, Rembrandt was banned from trading as a painter by the Amsterdam Painter’s Guild. Hendrickje and Titus set up business as arts dealers to try and get around this. During this time Rembrandt painted The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis commissioned by the city which was then rejected when finished.
Rembrandt passed away and was buried in a poor man’s grave at Westerkerk, as he was completely financially ruined by the time he died. Since poor man’s graves weren’t marked the exact location of Rembrandt’s is unknown. Although experts think it must have been along the northern wall. Rembrandt’s son Titus and Hendrickje are also buried in Westerkerk. Do visit the church to follow the footsteps of Rembrandt in Amsterdam, as it’s one of the most beautiful churches in the city, close to the Anne Frank House.
Rembrandt in Amsterdam: prepare your trip
- Find cheap plane tickets to Amsterdam.
- Get an I Amsterdam City Card to travel for free on public transport in Amsterdam, free access to many attractions in the city and huge discounts.
- Looking for a hotel in Amsterdam? Check out Volkshotel or Motel One.
- A fun and easy way to see the city? Rent a bike or join a bike tour in Amsterdam.
- Check out my complete Alternative guide to Amsterdam.
Would you like to follow the footsteps of Rembrandt in Amsterdam?
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More ideas on what to do in Amsterdam
- If you’re into art you’ll also want to visit the Van Gogh Museum whilst in Amsterdam. I recently joined a specialised tour through the Van Gogh Museum and I added many interesting facts to my (crazy) Van Gogh knowledge base.
- More into modern art? Read my article on where to find the best contemporary art in Amsterdam.
- Head to Amsterdam Noord, as it’s still a rather unknown and beautiful part of the city. Or check out some Amsterdam street art.
- Discover more of The Netherlands, really close to Amsterdam, a short bus ride away. See 4 villages near Amsterdam you must visit, or take the bus to discover beautiful Edam.