The key question asked in Rembrandt’s Social Network is: Who was in Rembrandt’s inner circle? Just as social media categorises our friends and acquaintances, this exhibition looks at the various groups of people Rembrandt knew and how they supported him. Rembrandt was not just a masterful artist but also an adept networker. He cultivated groups of people throughout his career who assisted him financially, purchased his work and provided him with artistic challenges that ensured his development.
His strong-willed nature saw him strike up important friendships with the elite and those with a refined understanding of art. His home was always alive with activity, with family and friends, clients and students regularly popping by. It’s likely that this setting provided inspiration for his informal and intimate works, a new and unique direction at the time.
The exhibition looks at some of Rembrandt’s portraits, grouping them by their relationships to the Dutch master, for example, boyhood friends, family and lifelong friends. Artist Jan Lievens was one of Rembrandt’s childhood friends, the two sharing a studio in Leiden before Rembrandt’s move to Amsterdam. Some of his pupils are included among his artist friends. People such as Philips Koninck, Roelant Roghman and Gerbrand van den Eeckhout were close to Rembrandt. He went on excursions with these friends and they would all draw together, resulting in similar sketches.
Family was important to Rembrandt. Saskia Uylenburgh, his first wife, was a key figure and her network played a significant role when it came to both social and financial connections for the Dutch master. Included among this group of ‘blood friends’ is Jan Six, a connoisseur and cultural figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Not only did he purchase Rembrandt’s work himself, but also facilitated commissions that were essential for the artist to seek out a living.
When hard times befell Rembrandt, it was his true friends who lent a helping hand. Around 1652 the tables turned for Rembrandt as money issues mounted and he was forced to sell his possessions and eventually his home, the location of this very exhibition. Apothecary, avid art collector and close friend of Rembrandt, Abraham Francen, came to the rescue covering Rembrandt’s debts during this difficult time. For this Rembrandt painted a special portrait of Francen as a thank you.
One of the exhibition’s highlights is a portrait of Rembrandt’s son Titus, his fourth child with Saskia and the only one to survive into adulthood. The relaxed portrait, on loan from the Museum of Baltimore, depicts a 19-year-old Titus wearing a billowy black hat and a wry smile. It’s the first time the painting has been shown in Europe. When Rembrandt went bankrupt in 1656, it was Titus along with Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt’s then companion, who kept the creditors at bay and Rembrandt in work.
Along with portraits you’ll find drawings, prints, etchings and books as well as documents that provide insight into the people who played an important part in Rembrandt’s life.This exhibition is over, but you can see some of Rembrandt's greatest works for free with your City Card at the Rijksmuseum, where visitors are invited to observe the restoration of The Night Watch. You can also learn more about Rembrandt’s life, find out about all the 2019 exhibitions or grab yourself a Rembrandt with our round-up of Rembrandt inspired products.