Born July 15, 1606, in Leiden, The Netherlands, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is considered one of the greatest artists in European art history, and a major contributor to the Golden Age of Dutch Art. He was the ninth child in a well-to-do family, he attended Latin school as a boy, and then the University of Leiden, where he showed an inclination toward painting. He was apprenticed to several artists, most notably Pieter Lastman, before opening his own studio with several friends before he was twenty. In 1627, Rembrandt was already teaching his own students.
Rembrandt was ‘discovered’ by Constantijn Huygens, who began to commission important works for display in the palace at The Hague. This led to Rembrandt producing works for Prince Frederik Hendrik for many years.
In 1931, Rembrandt moved to the newly burgeoning Amsterdam, where he began to work professionally as a portrait painter. Upon his arrival in Amsterdam, Rembrandt stayed with an art dealer, Hendrick van Uylenburg. Within three years Rembrandt had married Hendrick’s cousin, Saskia van Uylenburg. By that time, Rembrandt had become a burgess of Amsterdam, a position like a town representative, and was a member of the local painter’s guild. He also continued to take on more students, and his fame as a painter began to grow.
Rembrandt and Saskia moved out on their own in 1635, and then moved into a prominent house on Jodenbreestraat, which is now the Rembrandt House Museum. The mortgage on the house on Jodenbreestraat would later contribute to Rembrandt’s financial difficulties. The neighborhood was becoming the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam, and it was here that Rembrandt sought out his largely Jewish neighbors as models in his ongoing series of works drawn from the Old Testament of the Bible. Rembrandt’s Biblical works utilize both his talent and his great knowledge of scripture to portray key moments in both the Old and New Testaments.
Rembrandt’s financial troubles may have grown out of his personal woes. He and Saskia lost their first three children, and with the birth of their son Titus in 1641, Saskia grew ill and never recovered. She died, probably from tuberculosis, in 1642. Rembrandt’s paintings of her while sick and on her deathbed are among his most powerful and moving.
During his wife’s illness, Rembrandt engaged a maid and caretaker for his son, Geertje Dircx. Later, she would sue him for breach of promise, for which she was awarded alimony, implying a relationship. Rembrandt paid the ordered alimony, but continued to try to have Geertje committed to an asylum.
Toward the end of the 1640s, Rembrandt started an affair with Hendrickje Stoffels. In 1654, Stoffels gave birth to Rembrandt’s daughter, Cornelia, which incurred the wrath of the Reformation Church, which excommunicated Stoffels, but ignored Rembrandt, as he was not a member of the church. Rembrandt and his mistress were considered married under common law, but were never actually married.
Eventually, his overspending caught up with him, and Rembrandt was forced to sell off his large collection of art and curios, and move to a smaller house. The painter’s guild in Amsterdam tried to cripple him financially by banning him from making a living as a painter because of his situation. To get around this ruling, Rembrandt’s son and mistress set up shop as art dealers, with him as their employee.
In his own words, Rembrandt’s goal as an artist was to achieve “the greatest and most natural movement (or natural emotion, depending on the translation).” Over his career he is credited with more than 300 paintings, thousands of drawings, and hundreds more etchings or prints. Some of his most impacting works include his ongoing series of self-portraits, which traces his visage from lively youth to successful adult to troubled old man. While he was greatly appreciated as a genius in his own day, this did not prevent Rembrandt from falling on hard times, outliving his mistress and his only son, and being buried in an unmarked grave in 1669.