Rembrandt is all over the news lately here in the Netherlands. That’s because an exhibit at the Rijksmuseum called “Late Rembrandt” is drawing rave reviews. It assembles all of his important works from the height of his career. I haven’t seen the exhibit yet, but the Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper, gave it five stars out of five, and, believe me, that’s a very rare occurrence.
Museum Het Rembrandthuis, housed where Rembrandt himself lived, painted and taught for about twenty years, is running a parallel exhibition about Rembrandt’s pupils.
On a less-charming street than the other small museums I’ve visited lately in Amsterdam, Rembrandt lived here and taught a handful of pupils until bankruptcy forced him out. The exterior still shouts “Golden Age” in all its glory. However, inside it was completely changed over the centuries, so, when it became a museum, it was restored to its mid-1600’s appearance. In other words, the inside is all a reconstruction.
This is a good thing and a bad thing. On the positive side, it gives a realistic idea of what a 17th century Amsterdam house looked like when it was new. The furnishings are based on what is visible in many of the paintings and sketches by Rembrandt himself as well as by the students who passed through his studio.
You can see his reception room, where he sold his paintings; the kitchen, including the bedstee where the maid slept; his bedroom; his studio; and his students’ studio. There’s a large storeroom, where he kept specimens of various sorts, as well as a working press for printing etchings.
On the other hand, it’s missing something: atmosphere. When I go to see a historic house, like the Museum Van Loon, for example, I expect to see furnishings that are old. The staircase should be worn, the lighting should be poor, the tiling in the kitchen should be chipped.
Such things are signs of wear, to be sure, but I like them. They help me imagine more vividly what it might have been like to live in the house in that time. I had that feeling climbing the dark stairway to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, for example.
The Rembrandthuis is just too clean, too new, and too well-lit. It was interesting nevertheless, especially the sight of his studio upstairs, reconstructed to match how it looked when he lived there.
The museum includes a modern building next door, which allows for more exhibition space. The current exhibit is called “Rembrandt’s Late Pupils: Studying under a Genius.” It’s fascinating to see his students’ work and recognize what an influence he had on them when they studied with him in his home. Some of them went on to make names for themselves: Nicolaes Maes, for example.
If you are trying to get a feel for what life in the Golden Age in Amsterdam was like, this isn’t the museum for you.
However, if you are interested in Rembrandt’s work or Golden Age painting in general, visiting this small museum will give you some insight into his life, and would be especially worth it if you are planning to visit the Rijksmuseum’s Late Rembrandt show anyway. Plan an hour or two: if you tend to skim, as I do, an hour is enough. If you tend to want to read every explanatory sign in the exhibition, or try out the press and make an etching of your own, you’ll be there longer.
Both exhibits will close on May 17, so you’ll have to act fast. If you can’t get to Amsterdam by then, you can watch an on-line tour of the Late Rembrandt exhibit here. (Click on English at the top and you’ll get subtitles.)
This is one of my on-going series on small museums in Amsterdam. Here’s the whole list:
- Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
- Het Grachtenhuis (canal house museum)
- Museum van Loon
- Rembrandt’s House
- The Handbag Museum
- The Brilmuseum (spectacles)
- Huis Marseille Museum for Photography
- The Dutch Resistance Museum
- Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- Body Worlds: Museum or Freak Show
- The Sex Museum
And if you have a suggestion for which small museum I should visit next time I’m in Amsterdam, please add a comment below!
If you need more general information about visiting Amsterdam, check out the Netherlands Tourism website.