Last week, the Rembrandt House Museum reopened in Amsterdam after a four-month closure, offering 30 percent more Rembrandt in the building where the artist lived and worked—plus a forthcoming artist residency program that harkens back to the history of students studying there under the Dutch Golden Age master.
“This is the only surviving place of art education from the 17th century,” museum head of collections Epco Runia said during a tour of the museum, which had already hosted two artists as a pilot of the program.
Rembrandt lived at the home in the city center for nearly 20 years, arriving as a young and ambitious artist of just 33, having just been commissioned to paint what is now known as The Night Watch, perhaps his most famous work.
He left in bankruptcy, and the home was eventually subdivided into smaller residences—until artists intervened in the early 20th century. It was Dutch designer and architect Karel de Bazel who led the restoration of the house, which opened as a museum in 1911.
“I’ve always liked that this was an artist’s house, and it was saved by artists, and now there are artists here again,” director Milou Halbesma said.
The residency program is set to launch in October, with two artists working in what’s been dubbed the “Rembrandt Open Studio” on the home’s upper level for a two-month period.
“That’s how we will keep the house alive,” Halbesma added. “I don’t want it to be a church of Rembrandt.”
A visit to the Rembrandt House Museum starts on the lower level, in the kitchen. Post-renovation, a new display case features artifacts dug up from the cesspit outside believed to date to the artist’s residence, including pipes for smoking tobacco.
Archaeologists conducted tests on several pots recovered from the site, and detected residue from pigments Rembrandt was known to have used in his studio, a strong indication that he had owned the objects in the surrounding layer of excavations.
The ground floor was Rembrandt’s best advertisement to his customers—both as an artist and as a dealer. Today, the space is hung salon style with examples of real 17th-century works by artists Rembrandt was known to have collected. (His voracious appetite not only for paintings but for sculptures, natural history, and other collectibles was likely a factor in his financial troubles.)
“We tried to give an image of what Rembrandt had hanging here, but also what he liked and what influenced him as an artist,” Runia said. “We are always in search of paintings connected to the house.”
Other rooms in the home include Rembrandt’s wunderkammer-like “cabinet of curiosities” room, the studio, and the artist’s bedroom, newly outfitted with a baby’s cradle, to represent the three children he had during his residency. (One died at just two weeks old.)
“A Dutch couple emailed and told me they had the cradle of Rembrandt and thought I might be interested,” Runia said. “There was a note on it that said ‘cradle of Rembrandt’—but it turned out to be a cradle that had been made for a movie!”
Upon further research, Runia determined that the film prop was an accurate representation of the type of cradle Rembrandt would have used at the time, and was happy to acquire it.
The museum’s expansion was made possible by moving staff offices into the adjacent building, allowing for five new public rooms, including an etching workshop in the attic which will offer printmaking demonstrations. The museum has actually created 3D-printed replicas of Rembrandt’s original printing plates, allowing it to print new versions of his work today using 17th-century methods and replica equipment.
The building’s attic, added after Rembrandt’s lifetime, is now a small screening room with videos detailing the later history of both the artist and the house. On display is a facsimile of the bankruptcy inventory—which was an invaluable tool for recreating the original furnishings of the home as it was during Rembrandt’s lifetime. (The museum added a contemporary exhibition annex in 1998, when the residence itself was returned to its 17th-century appearance.)
Halbesma has also given up her own office for smaller quarters next door, transforming the space into a place where visitors can make their own drawings, responding to the rich history of the space.
From there, visitors enter into the exhibition galleries, where a new show, “The Art of Drawing,” brings together works by Rembrandt and contemporaries such as Ferdinand Bol and Nicolaes Maes and from the collection of Sheldon and Leena Peck. The couple donated the works to the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2016, and they are here on loan to a European institution for the first time.
The Rembrandt House Museum’s current exhibitions also include “Titus Returns Home: A Son, a Father, a Masterpiece,” a single-work show of an actual Rembrandt oil painting, a portrait of the artist’s son, Titus, who was born on the premises and likely studied under his father. He is depicted at about age 14, pen in hand at his desk.
The museum has an extensive collection of Rembrandt’s prints, but getting to see a full-scale painting in the home is “the holiest of holies,” Halbesma said, noting that the work is borrowed from Boijmans Van Beuningen in as part of a new loan program from the Rotterdam museum.
“It is the first time in 400 years that Titus comes home,” she added. “It will be the most difficult thing to give it back—of course we do it, but we cry.”
See more photos from the museum below.
“The Art of Drawing: 74 drawings by Rembrandt, Bol, Maes and others” is on view at the Rembrandt House Museum, Jodenbreestraat 4, Amsterdam, through June 11, 2023. “Titus Returns Home: A Son, a Father, a Masterpiece” is on view through June 4, 2023.
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