The life of a Dutch Master

As the most famous of the Dutch Masters, Rembrandt made an indelible impression on the Netherland’s artistic history. Born in Leiden in 1606, Rembrandt went on to spend most of his career in Amsterdam, a city that was experiencing the economic boom known as the Dutch Golden Age. The artist achieved great success as a portrait painter and it was not long before he and his wife Saskia moved into the stately home on Nieuwe Doelenstraat, which you can visit today as the Rembrandt House Museum. During his lifetime, the artist collected a great many paintings and precious artefacts, which are well documented as he was forced to sell them to avoid bankruptcy. He moved into a smaller rented house on the Rozengracht, where he died in 1669 and was buried at the Westerkerk.

Amsterdam Westertoren Toyah Boer

Rembrandt’s artworks and style

During his career, Rembrandt completed an estimated 300 works, although the exact number is still debated by scholars. His subjects varied from portraits to landscape and narrative scenes from history and the bible. A key characteristic of a Rembrandt artwork is his dramatic rendition of light and shadow, using strong contrasts between darkness and highly saturated colours. The artist is also commended for his ability to portray personality and character through facial features and mannerisms. His success saw him take several students under his wing who were eager to learn the techniques of the accomplished artist. His students included Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck.

What was the Dutch Golden Age?

The period known as the Dutch Golden Age was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. In the 17th century, the Netherlands’ shipbuilding and seafaring skills made it possible for explorers to travel the world and bring back exotic flavours, ceramics and other goods that could be traded for large profits. During this time, Amsterdam began the world’s first stock exchange and listed its first company, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), an extraordinary advancement for 1602. While the early part of the century was marked by the Thirty Years' War, which ended in 1648, the remaining years were peaceful. The country became a formidable maritime and economic power with Amsterdam positioned as a dominant trading centre. The city’s wealth gave rise to artists like Rembrandt and his contemporaries, whose works were commissioned by affluent merchants. At the same time, a tolerant intellectual culture attracted scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and creative thinkers from across Europe, leading to significant advances in the arts. The subject matter of paintings began to shift towards depictions of daily life, seascapes, naval scenes and portraits that celebrated prominent figures, rather than biblical scenes, as can be seen in Rembrandt’s groundbreaking works from the period. Influenced by Italian painters, Rembrandt went on to master three mediums: painting, drawing and printmaking.

Want to learn more about Rembrandt’s art and influence in Amsterdam? Read more about his major artworks and where to see them.