Born on the 15th of July 1606 right here in Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn was the youngest son of Harmen Gerritszoon van Rijn. His father, like his father’s father and their fathers before them, was a humble miller. As the only one of his family who was allowed to go study at the Philosophy Faculty of Leiden, Rembrandt knew the life of a miller was not his destiny. At the culmination of his studies, he decided he was going to be a painter.
During the following three years he studied with the famous painter Jacob Isaacz Swanenburg, followed by a six month study with Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam. At the ripe age of 19 he returned to his hometown Leiden, accompanied by his good friend and fellow-painter Jan Lievens. It didn’t take the two opinionated painters long to gain fame.
The secretary of stadtholder Frederick Hendrik, Constantijn Huygens, venerated young Rembrandt with a visit. Mainly due to his words of praise, the Council decided to buy some of his early work. This meant a great step towards his future success. Rembrandts dramatic light display is one of his best known trademarks, which is mostly shown in his early work of Biblical scenes.
From Amsterdam came his first portrait commissions. Due to his perfectionism and personal style the commissions kept coming in quickly. Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam in 1631 where he became a member of the Lukas guild. As a master he could now train his companions and students. Many of his students, including Carel Fabritius, Gerrit Dou, Ferdinand Bol and Nicolaes Maes, also became famous painters later in life.
In 1634 Rembrandt married Saskia Uylenburgh. In 1641 their son Titus was born. When Saskia died shortly after, Rembrandt took on the widow housekeeper Geertje Dircx. After a short while they got into a relationship but it was unfortunately short-lived. They separated due to arguments and legal processes. Hendrickje Stoffels was Saskia’s successor. Together they had a daughter named Cornelia.
Between 1640 and 1642 Rembrandt created one of his true masterpieces, The Nachtwacht. When finished, the Nachtwacht measured a stunning 4 by 5 meters, but due to it being moved into a smaller room at the City Hall on the Dam in Amsterdam, a section of the painting was cut off to make it fit.
This resulted in three characters being cut off and by doing so Rembrandt distanced himself from the prevailing habit that these types of group portraits had to be strict and formal. Hundreds of thousands’ visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam every year to come and see this magnificent painting for themselves.
Rembrandt is considered to be the most important Dutch Master of the 17th century. He painted a total of about 300 paintings, 300 etches and around 2000 sketches. He is the only Dutch painter to sign his work with his first name.