2019 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. Widely considered to be the greatest Dutch artist of all time (sorry van Gogh, Vermeer, and Tiësto), Rembrandt was a prolific painter, whose oeuvre stretched across a diverse range of subject matter. His work is characterized by a stark division of light and shadow to create a brooding duskiness – a technique known as chiaroscuro – that’s just as beguiling now as it was in the 1600s.
Never content with just painting boring old portraits for aristocrats and merchants, and moody self-portraits (although he certainly did them in style), Rembrandt is remembered for his ability to conjure breathtaking landscapes, dramatic historical scenes, biblical allegories, and Classical mythology, with a murky atmosphere haunting every brushstroke. He also liked to draw elephants.
This year, museums around The Netherlands are putting together the largest nationwide celebration of Dutch Golden Age art, since… well… the Dutch Golden Age! The Year of Rembrandt assembles a remarkable array of special exhibitions that revisit this defining chapter in Western history, and the masterful works of art – from Rembrandt and other contemporaries – that blossomed throughout it.
So if you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands in 2019, make sure you check out some of these cultural gems.
All the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum
Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is home to the single-largest collection of Rembrandt’s works in the world, and as the name of this exhibition suggests, they’re wheeling them all out at once and presenting them together. It’s the first time something like this has ever happened.
Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch, or, Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, to give it its full title, is the Rijksmuseum’s year-round centerpiece. The giant military group portrait actually had its sides chopped off in 1715 so that it could fit into its frame in Amsterdam’s town hall. This is perhaps history’s most cautionary tale against taking Dutch pragmatism too far!
In All the Rembrandts, The Night’s Watch is joined by 21 paintings, 60 drawings, and more than 300 prints that span Rembrandt’s entire career and evolution as an artist. It’s a total must if you’re into once-in-a-lifetime cultural events.
Discover Rembrandt – His Life and All His Paintings at RAI Amsterdam
Anything you can do RAI can do better. That’s the message from RAI Amsterdam to the Rijksmuseum. Discover Rembrandt takes the concept of ‘All the Rembrandts’ to the next level, by digitally recreating every single Rembrandt artwork in known existence. Of the artist’s 350 paintings, only 41 of them are in Dutch collections.
Also, Rembrandts are naturally in high demand. In fact, his paintings have been stolen over 81 times, and one painting in particular so often, it came to be known as the ‘Takeaway Rembrandt’.
While the Rijksmuseum is confined to showing original works from its admittedly immense collection, RAI brings together those works, plus stolen paintings, ones that are housed in private collections, and other museums in 18 different countries.
It’s a thought-provoking exhibition that gives the most comprehensive overview of Rembrandt’s entire career. These digital facsimiles are so accurate down to the tiniest detail that you may not even be able to tell the difference.
You can learn a lot about someone just by walking around their home. So if you’re looking for an even more intimate portrait of Rembrandt, then visit the house in which he lived. The Rembrandt House Museum is a time capsule of Golden Age upper-middle-class living and 17th-century elegance, nestled in the heart of Amsterdam.
Exploring Rembrandt’s house is a surreal experience. It’s funny to think of him shuffling about these antique rooms, eating breakfast in his PJs before setting to work on paintings that would outlive him by centuries. It’s here that he crafted much of his art and ran the largest painting studio in the Netherlands. You’ll see sketches, studies, and finished works he rushed through to maintain an artist’s lifestyle. He eventually went broke and died a poor man, but the legacy he left behind is priceless.
The Rembrandt House Museum is also getting in on the Year of Rembrandt action, with three special exhibitions that are sure to make the experience of the house even more memorable.
Rembrandt’s Social Network – runs until May 19, 2019
We tend to think of artists as singular geniuses who summon amazing feats of creative expression out of thin air, and that’s partially true, yet it’s only half the story. This unique exhibition explores the roles Rembrandt’s friends, family, and contemporaries had on the artist’s work.
Rembrandt’s Social Network will be staged at the Rembrandt House until mid-May and shows documents and imagery of important figures in the artist’s life. Some of these works have never been displayed in The Netherlands before. Rembrandt’s Social Network provides an intimate insight into the Dutch master’s human side, and it’s a nice reminder of the importance of people in our own lives too.
Inspired by Rembrandt – runs from June 7 – September 1, 2019
In addition to being the former abode of one of the greatest artists of all time, the Rembrandt House is a fully fledged art museum in its own right, too. Inspired by Rembrandt presents the museum’s eclectic collection of original works by the house’s former tenant, prints by his predecessors and contemporaries, as well as modern and contemporary artists who drew inspiration from him.
Original etchings and drawings from Rembrandt are presented alongside works by Hercules Segers, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Horst Janssen, Willem den Ouden, Charles Donker, and Glenn Brown.
Laboratory Rembrandt –runs 21 September 2019 – 16 February 2020
Using the latest state-of-the-art technology, Laboratory Rembrandt fuses scientific inquiry with creative curiosity and peels back the centuries on Rembrandt’s work to reveal secrets and insights about Rembrandt’s enigmatic artworks.
Enter a lab-like setting to see the forensic techniques that art historians and scientists use to glean tiny details from antique canvases and paper that the naked eye could never catch. It’s a fascinating journey into the creative process of a genius, and a window into the past. This interactive exhibition is a total must-see for anyone with an obsessive streak for art and science.
If The Night’s Watch has ignited a spark in you for gigantic Golden Age group portraits, then fan the flame with a visit to the Portrait Gallery Of The Golden Age. This exhibit is actually a collaboration between the Rijksmuseum, the Amsterdam Museum, and the Hermitage Amsterdam Museum.
Feast your eyes on civic guards, regents, merchants of all ranks, and feasting tables of dandy-looking men in tights! There’s also a famous painting by Rembrandt titled ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman’, which presents an unsettling portrait of 17th-century brain dissection. It’s mind-opening, to say the least!
The Dutch Golden Whatnow?
At some point, you might be thinking, ‘wait, what exactly was this famous Dutch Golden Age anyway?’ Long story short, this was the period in history that spanned across the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Dutch won their sovereignty and basically became masters of the world. After gaining independence from Spain in the Eighty Years War, thanks to William of Orange, the Dutch wasted no time in becoming the economic and cultural superpower of Europe.
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was actually the first to ever to list an official stock exchange, and the booming trade brought economic prosperity and scientific advances that transformed Dutch society. People became healthier and wealthier; populations grew, and a middle class emerged that had an appreciation for the finer things in life.
A renaissance in philosophy and the arts soon followed. Enter Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Baruch Spinoza, and many other inspirational artists, architects, and thinkers.
All those people needed somewhere to live, and so the Golden Age saw the rapid development of Amsterdam’s canal ring into a densely populated metropolis of gingerbread-style houses and ornate bridges connecting its winding waterways. The city has a fairy-tale charm to it that seduced UNESCO into declaring the entire center of Amsterdam a World Heritage Site. Central Amsterdam is essentially an open-air museum of the Dutch Golden Age.
The best way to explore this living, breathing, cultural heritage site is with a guided walking tour of Rembrandt & Golden Age. This tour will let you literally walk in the footsteps of Rembrandt, visiting the scenes he painted, while your guide shares intriguing details about the artist’s life. The tour lasts two full hours and will take you to all of the defining places in Rembrandt’s life.
Amsterdam isn’t where all the action is. The Museum Prinsenhof Delft has its fair share of Golden Age history too and is worth a visit if you fancy a trip outside of the well-trodden walking tours and museums of the capital. Museum Prinsenhof Delft has a large array of Delft Blue pottery. If you don’t know what that is, it might become familiar to you once you see it. This iconic blue and white pottery was the Dutch answer to the grand ceramics of China – and Delft mastered the art of crafting it, putting this small city on the world map.
The Museum Prinsenhof Delft is also the building where William of Orange was assassinated. The bullet holes from his murder are still visible in the walls here. The assassination was one of the most influential moments in Dutch history, without which, there may never have been a Dutch Golden Age. So it’s definitely worth a visit!
For more unique art and cultural events in Amsterdam, and around the world, keep an eye on the Tiqets Blog.