Friday, April 26, 2013

Rembrandt's house

Today's featured attraction was the Rembrandt House Museum, the building in which he lived from 1639 to 1658.  From what I've read there and elsewhere, Rembrandt was as good with money as many other artists and writers:  he paid an outrageous sum for a house he really couldn't afford, ultimately failed to pay off his mortgage, and after almost twenty years in it, he went bankrupt.  His creditors did what those sorts of folks always do:  sold the house and auctioned his possessions. 

The lesson for us all is simple:  no matter how great an artist or writer or whatever else you may be, if you get in trouble financially, your creditors will ultimately catch up to you.

On the way to the house, I saw in rapid succession two signs whose juxtaposition amused me.  The first was this crossing sign on a perfectly lovely but deserted street.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

The second appeared in a restaurant.

I love when life presents these little moments of contrast.

The house was quite interesting.  Its exhibits made tangible the reality of the artist's life.  The people who built the museum were able to reconstruct the house so accurately because when the creditors took it back, they systematically inventoried every item in every room, by room, often noting where objects were in the room.  Add information from Rembrandt's own drawings, and you have enough data to do a pretty good job on the place.

It opened with this exhibit of items that renovators found in 1997 in a cess pit and then dated from the time Rembrandt lived here.

One of the earthenware pots contained lots of lead white, and the other held chalk and glue. Things broke, he threw them out.  Perfectly natural and in no way a surprise, but still neat to see in person.

The large kitchen featured a tall fireplace on one side and a prep counter on the other.

On the wall with the door was a large cabinet that housed, among other things, the maid's box bed.

As you may be able to tell, it was small, so I have to hope she was, too.  It was also probably the best bed in the house for much of the year, because the fireplace, which they kept burning all the time, would have made it the warmest place to sleep. 

The entrance hall was basically a gallery, where Rembrandt sold his work and that of other artists as well.

Hey, while you're waiting, want to buy anything? 

He was always hustling, something else that hasn't changed for modern artists. Guests would move from this waiting room into Rembrandt's anteroom, where he would entertain them and, he hoped, sell them something.  It also contained more paintings for sale, as well as a guest box bed (he slept upstairs, though maybe he also rested here).

I wish I could show you shots without other visitors in them, but the place was crowded the whole time I was there.  I also apologize to all the folks whose images I'm putting here, though I don't think these pictures will invade their privacy much, if at all, because I have no clue who any of them are.

Another way in which Rembrandt was very much like most artists and writers I've known is that he kept art all around him.  His living room/bedroom was full of paintings.

He and his wife, Saskia, slept in an almost double-bed-sized box bed along the wall with the door.

Rembrandt didn't just live and paint in this house; he also worked on his etchings and printed them, here.  In a room off the anteroom, he had a press, a drying line, and a workbench.

The soul of the building, though, was on its top floor:  the studio where he painted.  With windows covering most of one wall, he had great northern light for most of the day.

On shelves around the room he kept some reference materials, but most of it was open space for posing models and painting.

The most fascinating room was what the exhibit signs called his "Art Cabinet," but which we could also term his reference library or even his own personal kunstkammer.  He kept not only his art books here--volumes with at one point over 8,000 drawings and prints by many artists--but also a huge collection of oddities, items he found inspirational or useful in his work.

In addition to brain coral, lizards, armor, and many other items, the room held not one but two stuffed armadillos.  I'd love to do an anthology based around the items in this room; it would be fascinating--and sell about six copies.

The museum also features an extensive collection of Rembrandt's prints, along with several of the original plates.  You can find the prints in plenty of books, so I won't spend much time on them here.  I did, though, find fascinating a few of the presentations, such as this version of Jesus on the cross

and this one, which Rembrandt made years later by revisiting the same plate and reworking it extensively.

Getting to see both the etching and the original plate was also a treat, as in this duo about Potiphar's wife, who failed at seducing Joseph but kept his coat for later blackmail use.

I could go on and on, but it's late here, so I'm stopping and encouraging you to check out Rembrandt's prints if you are not already familiar with them.

Out on the streets, a wandering path took me by the lovely Old Church, among many other places.

Ducks and swans make homes and nests on bits of wood tied to the sides of the canals.

One bit of sad news is that in preparation for reopening the Van Gogh museum on May 1, when I will already be back in Paris, about a week ago they started moving the collection out of the Hermitage.  So, though I will get to see the Hermitage, I will not make my second visit to the Van Gogh museum this trip.  This results from my lack of planning and research, so I accept it as one of the downsides of an approach I have generally enjoyed.  Still, I wish I'd been able to catch that collection.

Tomorrow, more art!

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