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Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn)

Leiden (Netherlands), 1606 - Amsterdam (Netherlands), 1669

He was the ninth child of a wealthy family from Leiden. His father, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn, came from a family of millers who had settled in the city and who adopted the nickname Van Rijn since the mill was located on the banks of the Rhine. His mother, Harmen Neeltgen van Zuytbroeck, was the daughter of a prosperous baker in the same city. In 1620, after seven years of study at a Latin school, he enrolled at Leiden University, the first Protestant University. After the first year, however, he abandoned his academic studies to devote himself to painting. He received his first training in Leiden in Jacob van Swanenburgh’s workshop (1571–1638), where he stayed for three years. In 1624, he moved to Amsterdam to continue his studies for six months at Pieter Lastman’s workshop, a history painter trained in the Raphaelesque tradition. His influence is clearly seen in some of Rembrandt´s early works. His first signed painting, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, dated 1625 (Lyon, Musée de Beaux-Arts) is an example of such influence. In 1626, he returned to Leiden, where he became an independent painter and shared a workshop with Jan Lievens (1607–1674), also a pupil of Lastman. In 1628, he accepted his first student, Gerard Dou (1613–1675) who, as time passes by, would become leading representative of the so-called ‘fijnshilders’ (fine painters) of Leiden. In 1628, Constantijn Huyghens, a poet, a collector as well as a secretary and an artistic advisor of Frederik Henry, Prince of Orange, visited Rembrandt and Lievens’ workshop. This fact reveals that, at that time, the reputation of both painters had spread beyond Leiden. From then on, Huyghens became a fervent admirer of Rembrandt and numerous commissions were entrusted to him from the court in The Hague. In 1631, Rembrandt and Lievens decided to separately pursue their own path. The former settled down permanently in Amsterdam, and the latter to England. Around 1632, Rembrandt moved into the house of the influential merchant and collector Hendrick van Uylenburgh, through whom he was commissioned to portray the merchant Nicolaes Ruts (New York, Frick Collection), his first portrait. From that moment on, his fame as a portraitist was consolidated and he received numerous commissions from the representatives of the powerful bourgeoisie of the city. In 1632, the surgeons’ guild commissioned him, for its headquarters, the group portrait The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (The Hague, Mauritshuis). Thanks to this piece, Rembrandt renewed this type of portrait. Since then, he signed only with his own name, thus emulating the great masters of the Renaissance. In June 1634, he married a cousin of Uylenburgh, Saskia van Uylenburgh, the daughter of the burgomaster of Leeuwarden (Frisia). In 1639, they bought a house in one of the most distinguished neighbourhoods of the city. They had four children, of whom only Titus, born in 1641, survived. In 1642, he finished The Night Watch (The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq) (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum). In June of the same year, his wife died. Soon after, he began a sentimental relationship with Geertje Dicks, a widow woman he had previously hired as Titus’s nanny. Some financial difficulties then started, partly due to the debt incurred from the purchase of the house. In 1647, he hired Hendrickje Stoffels, a young thirty-one-year-old woman, as a maid, and dispensed with the service of Geertje Dicks, who filed a lawsuit against the painter accusing him of breaking their marriage commitment. Rembrandt was sentenced to pay her compensation. After a few years of low production, he gradually began to accept new commissions. In 1654, from his union with Hendrickje Stoffels, his daughter Cornelia was born and baptised as an illegitimate child in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. Financial difficulties worsened and he was declared to be in bankruptcy. In 1656, the Supreme Court of Holland ordered him to submit an asset inventory. His entire estate, including his house and his splendid collection of paintings, prints and drawings, were sold at public auction. Nevertheless, the sum raised was still not enough to cover all his debts. In the light of this fact, in 1660, the family moved to a more modest dwelling on the Rozengracht. The painter was declared to be in bankruptcy and became an employee of Titus and Hendrickje, who were responsible for selling his work. In 1661–62, he received his last public commission from Amsterdam City Council, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum). That same year, he had to sell the grave site of Saskia. In 1663, Hendrickje died. In 1667, Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, visited him in his studio. In October 1668, Titus died, and one year later, on 4 October 1669, did the painter. He was buried in a grave rented in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, as Hendrickje and Titus (Posada, T. en: Pintura Holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, p. 258).

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