Rembrandt’s “A View of Amsterdam”

Walking in Rembrandt’s footsteps is still possible today.

Seventeenth century Dutch landscapes were a popular subject for prints and Rembrandt van Rijn took the genre to new heights. The locations of almost all his landscapes can be identified in the immediate vicinity of Amsterdam, where the artist took long walks before returning to his studio.

One of the most prolific artists in history, Rembrandt made nearly 300 etchings. Most of his landscapes were done in the 1640s, experimenting with different tonal effects that look deceptively easy to achieve. Around the year 1630, when Rembrandt arrived in Amsterdam, the city was becoming a prosperous commercial centre reflecting Holland’s leading role in world trade. Its population was approximately 150,000 people, its harbour was full of ships from all parts of the world carrying exotic cargoes of food, clothing and household materials. Tall, narrow buildings were being constructed throughout the city to accommodate the rapid influx of people.

Amsterdam was also a seat of learning and culture where universities and other centres of education were being founded. And fortunately for Rembrandt, there were enough wealthy people in the city interested in art.

“A View of Amsterdam” (1640) depicts the city as it appeared during Rembrandt’s time walking in a north-easterly direction from his house until reaching the outer edge of Amsterdam. Across the meadows, from left to right, the following structures can be seen: Herring Packers’ Town, the Old Church (Oude Kerk), Montelbaans Tower, which Rembrandt was later to draw in detail, the warehouses of the East and West India Companies, the windmill on the Rijzenhoofd, and finally the Southern Church (Zuiderkerk).

In 1578, the Oude Kerk became the city’s registry of marriages. On 5 June 1633 Rembrandt went there to record his engagement to Saskia van Ulenborch, whom he married one year later. The betrothal ceremony required Rembrandt to step through a red doorway into a special room where marriage licences were signed. It is one of many places in Amsterdam where the visitor can literally walk in Rembrandt’s footsteps.

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