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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 because the mill was located on the banks of the Rhine. His mother, Harmen Neeltgen van Zuytbroeck, was the daughter of a prosperous baker from the same city. In 1620 after he studied for seven years at a Latin school, he enrolled at Leiden University, the first Protestant university. However, after the first year, he abandoned his academic studies to devote himself to painting. He received his initial training in Leiden with Jacob van Swanenburgh (1571–1638), whose workshop he stayed in for three years. In 1624, he moved to Amsterdam to continue his studies for six months at the workshop of Pieter Lastman, a history painter trained in the tradition of Raphael. His influence is clearly seen in some of Rembrandt’s early works, such as in his first signed painting, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, dated 1625 (Musée de Beaux-Arts in Lyon). 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 would become over time the 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 each decided to separately pursue his own path. The former settled down permanently in Amsterdam and the latter in England.
Around 1632, Rembrandt moved into the house of the influential merchant and collector Hendrick van Uylenburgh, through whom he was commissioned to paint the portrait of the merchant Nicolaes Ruts (Frick Collection in New York), his first portrait. From that moment on his fame as a portraitist was consolidated, and he received numerous commissions from the representatives of the city’s powerful bourgeoisie. In 1632, the surgeons’ guild commissioned the group portrait The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (Mauritshuis in The Hague) for its headquarters. In doing so, Rembrandt revived this portrait type. From then on, he signed only with his own name, thus emulating the great Renaissance masters. In June 1634, he married Uylenburgh’s cousin, Saskia van Uylenburgh, the daughter of the burgomaster of Leeuwarden (Frisia). In 1639, they bought a house in one of the city’s most distinguished neighbourhoods. 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) (Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam). In June of the same year, his wife died. Soon after, he began a sentimental relationship with Geertje Dicks, a widow 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 woman who was 31 years old – as a maid and dispensed with the services 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, his daughter Cornelia was born out of his union with Hendrickje Stoffels. She was baptised as an illegitimate child in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. Financial difficulties worsened and he declared bankruptcy; as a result, Holland’s Supreme Court ordered him to submit an asset inventory in 1656. His entire estate – including his house and his splendid collection of paintings, prints and drawings – was sold at public auction. Nevertheless, the sum raised was still not enough to cover all his debts. For this reason, the family moved to a more modest dwelling on the Rozengracht in 1660. The painter declared 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 the Amsterdam City Council, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (Nationalmuseum in Stockholm). 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. The artist passed away one year later, on 4 October 1669, and was buried in a rented grave in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, as were Hendrickje and Titus (Posada, T. en: Pintura Holandesa en el Museo Nacional del Prado. Catálogo razonado, 2009, p. 258).

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