Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum's Rembrandt anniversary 2019

Should you ever find yourself challenged as you loiter in Amsterdam's famous red light district, here's a valid excuse. Explain you're searching for the houses where Rembrandt van Rijn lived, here in the city's piquant canal quarter. Only one abode has survived, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, or Rembrandt House Museum.

And expect that it, like every other Rembrandt site in Amsterdam, will be well-booked during 2019, "The Year of Rembrandt" since it's the 350th anniversary of the painter's death.

Thanks to new technology, we're able to enjoy "old masters" like never before. Not just audio guides and digital downloads but the kind of ultra-sensitive lighting that enables Holland's national museum of art and history, the Rijksmuseum, to show every one of its Rembrandt collection – 22 paintings, 60 drawings and more than 300 prints – together for the first time (until June 10, 2019).

From July, the Rijksmuseum will also be the focus of one of the most extraordinary projects in art history. Rembrandt's most famous work, The Night Watch, will undergo its first restoration since it was slashed in 1975 with a bread knife. During the restoration, the huge painting will be encased in a glass chamber allowing visitors to still admire the painting while digital viewers around the world can follow the painstaking restoration.

No-one would be more surprised by The Night Watch's enduring fame than Rembrandt. Like Mozart, he was buried in a pauper's grave despite previous celebrity and royal adoration. But unlike well-travelled Mozart, the Dutchman rarely ventured outside Amsterdam.

So the cheapest way of learning about arguably the most influential artist between Leonardo da Vinci and Pablo Picasso is to take a self-guided "Rembrandt walk" around the Amsterdam he might still recognise.

Our starting point is the Rembrandt House Museum on Jodenbreestraat. The artist and his wife, Saskia, moved here in 1639, at the height of Rembrandt's fame and financial success. It's a substantial wooden house. And though it's in the heart of historical Amsterdam, it was just a couple of canals from the fields where the artist took his sketchbooks to draw.

Saskia and Rembrandt were engaged at the Oude Kerk in 1633. Nine years later, she was buried there, aged 29, having given birth to four children. Each daughter died in infancy and they are buried at another of Amsterdam's famous churches, Zuiderkerk (the first Protestant church build after the expulsion of the Catholic clergy in 1578). Only their son Titus, born in 1641, lived until adulthood and he died before his father. For the latter part of his life, Rembrandt lived with his former maid, Hendrickje Stoffels, mother of their daughter, Cornelia.

At the Rembrandt House Museum you'll discover how prodigious, famous and wealthy Rembrandt was in his prime. Yet he went bankrupt, moving to cheaper accommodation. It's not hard to work out why. His private collection, now reassembled, consists of things a wealthy, educated royal might amass, charging to the public purse.

Advertisement

Once you've finished in the museum and purchased the self-guided walk booklet, turn left and cross Oude Schans, one of Amsterdam's oldest canals, to 59 Anthoniebreestraat. It's now a nondescript apartment block. But for six months in 1625, young Rembrandt, newly arrived from his birthplace of Leiden, was apprenticed to the painter Pieter Lastman who lived here. Lastman was highly regarded for his "history paintings", scenes from the Bible and classical mythology, a constant theme in Rembrandt's own work.

My favourites on the walk include Zuiderkerk ("southern church"). Its dominating tower, finished in 1614, remains much as it was when Rembrandt woke up to its four bells ringing each month. And how could you not love the social hub that is still Nieuwmarkt, anchored by De Waag? This multi-towered, multi-entranced and multi-purpose "weigh house" is where the young Rembrandt was invited to paint his breakthrough canvas, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.

Then there's the site, now a hotel, where Rembrandt was commissioned by "the Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch"? Don't recognise their names? They were the officers of what we'd now call a ceremonial civil guard. They became The Night Watch, by mistake, because Rembrandt's colours darkened over the centuries. So who knows what this year's analysis will bring?

One thing is sure. The circular walking tour will bring you back to Oude Schans. Rembrandt Corner, the restaurant overlooking the canal and next to Rembrandt House Museum, is an unashamed tourist trap. But it still serves the traditional Dutch meals Rembrandt enjoyed (split pea and sausage soup or the Hollandse stamppot: mashed potato with spinach, sausage, meatball, gravy and egg on the side). You'll notice the cumulative effect of such repasts on Rembrandt's girth in his self-portraits.

TRIP NOTES

Steve Meacham travelled at his own expense.

MORE

traveller.com.au/netherlands

iamsterdam.com

FLY

Several airlines offer a single-stop flight from Sydney (sometimes Melbourne and Brisbane) to Amsterdam. These include Etihad/KLM, see etihad.com/en-au/; Qantas/China Airlines, see qantas.com/au; and Garuda Indonesia (via Jakarta), see garuda-indonesia.com/au

VISIT

Rembrandt House Museum, adults €14, children €5. See rembrandthuis.nl

The Rijksmuseum, adults €20, under-18 free. See rijksmuseum.nl/en/the-year-of-rembrandt.

EAT

Rembrandt Corner with specialties such as Hollandse stampotten or bitterballen. See rembrandtcorner.nl

Comments