In the 400 years since Rembrandt's birth, the friendly country of Holland has become synonomous with his extraordinary art.
Full disclosure: Holland’s Tourism Bureau hosted this writer in 2006 to help spread the word about the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth on July 15, 1606. Fortunately, a majority of his masterpieces continue to be displayed as described, in museums and galleries around the country.
Among its many cultural riches, Amsterdam boasts not only a Rembrandt museum but the Master’s own home and studio at the The Rembrandt House, and both buildings contain a lot of his work. Museum Het Rembrandthuis, at Jodenbreestraat 4 (31/ 0 20 – 520 0400), is open and charges admission. This 17th-century house where Rembrandt lived and worked has been restored to its original glory.
The house is very small by our standards, with spiral stairways which barely accommodate one person. But it is filled with riches; casts and renderings of sculptures in his upstairs studio, walls filled with nearly 100 of his etches and drawings on the lower floors, and his furnishings, all left exactly as they were when he died. One feature I’ve never seen available anywhere else is the ability to buy etches made from copies of Rembrandt’s original plates, costing about €40 each.
The Rijksmuseum, at Jan Luykenstraat 1 (31/ 0 20 – 674 7047), has one of the world’s largest collections of Rembrandt paintings. The Jewish Bride, The Syndics, Self-Portrait as a Young Man and the legendary Nightwatch are just a few of the Dutch Master treasures you’ll see here; Rembrandt’s self-portrait as the Apostle Paul, the portrait of his Son Titus in a monk’s habit, and the mesmerizing still life with peacocks are three others. Until extensive renovations are completed in 2009, only about 400 works in total are being displayed in the modern Phillips Wing, but it’s well worth a visit and the gardens are an oasis of shade and calm during summer. It’s open daily till 6pm and Friday until 8:30pm; children under 19 enter free.
I visited the Rijksmuseum first, then Rembrandt’s house, and it worked for me. Unless you’re traveling with art scholars, I think it’s helpful to see the great paintings first, then the sketches for some of them and the workplace where they were painted. It puts the entire experience into context for all ages, but either way, you’ll be blown away.
The Hague’s Extraordinary Mauritshuis Collection
The Mauritshuis – Dutch for Maurits House – in The Hague, an hour train ride from Amsterdam, presents more of the master’s work. Three of Rembrandt’s most beautiful works in the Mauritshuis’ collection were restored for the artist’s 400th anniversary in 2006. These are in addition to the 10 works by Rembrandt already ensconced in the Mauritshuis, making it one of the largest collections of Rembrandt paintings in the world.
The Mauritshuis collection is a once-in-a-lifetime overview of Rembrandt’s development from a talented young artist into art history icon. What makes this especially cool for kids is the presentation – the Mauritshuis is actually a house, a grand house, filled with great art on every floor. You view these works in their natural habitat, so to speak, on the walls of a house rather than in the rarified and fortified environment of a museum.
Over the past decade the Mauritshuis has thoroughly restored all of the paintings by Rembrandt in the collection, so these paintings now look as crisp and detailed as when they were first painted. The objective was to return Rembrandt’s masterpieces as much as possible to their original state, so old varnish and discolored retouchings were removed to ensure the paintings’ brilliance for future generations. The artwork’s new-found clarity is as obvious as the difference between a reproduction and the real thing; it’s that powerful.
Walking In The Footsteps of Rembrandt
I should also mention that for you Rembrandt zealots, the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board sponsors “Discover Rembrandt’s Amsterdam,” a walking tour of the many places that played a key role in his development and his life Coincidentally, the tour includes a visit to the The Rembrandt House (Museum Het Rembrandthuis for those in the know).
The tour I took was terrific, lots of walking; through the floral district, past old bookstores and immigrant restaurants, and it included the old and new parts of Amsterdam. The only drawback is that, depending on when you’re there, there is a strong likelihood of rain, not a heavy shower but a dedicated cold sprinkle which brings with it its own silver lining — a 20-minute stopover at a cafe for coffee and pastries to warm up! Tickets for the tour are inexpensive, and available at the Information offices of the Tourism & Convention Board.
Rain or shine, don’t miss the photo op at the three-dimensional life-size bronze rendering of Rembrandt’s masterpiece Night Watch, located at Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Plaza). This sculpture was the creation of two Russian artists, Alexander Taratynov and Mikhail Dronov and, as you might guess, it is where everyone has their picture taken nestled in between the figures. This sculpture is one of the stops on the walking tour and yet another reason for you to be rolling with Rembrandt in any visit to Amsterdam.
The Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board (31/ 0 0900 400 4040) has tourist information offices located at Amsterdam’s Central Station (their Penn Station), and more centrally located at Stationsplein 15 on platform 2b (next to Burger King!) This information office has six counters, with an express counter for straightforward questions, for booking excursions and buying maps, public transportation tickets and brochures. Open daily.
With its more than 30 free and 20 discount offers on major tourist attractions and restaurants, the I amsterdam Card offers families many savings (such as free museum admission) and a lot of convenience (including free public transport passes). It’s available at tourist information offices and at many museum box offices.
Holland is a very small country, which makes Amsterdam a wonderful base for exploration. There are restaurants galore and hotels and B&Bs in every price category.
Successively a convent, a Royal Inn, Dutch Admiralty headquarters, and City Hall over the span of three centuries, The Grand Amsterdam (31/0 20/ 555. 3111) is one of Amsterdam’s premiere luxury hotels and was my resting place. Bordered front and back by two canals in the heart of the city, it’s just 30 minutes from Schiphol Airport and features very deluxe accommodations and amenities, guest services (yes, babysitting and WiFi too) and on-call doctors and dentists. The two-bedroom family suites sleeping four are quite grand and unusual for this city. Longer-staying guests may want to contemplate the 16 one-, two- or three-bedroom luxury apartments with full kitchens and living areas. Best yet, all of Amsterdam is within walking distance and public transportation is less than 10 minutes away.
Two moderately priced, three-star hotels with the usual amenities are recommended near the museum district. The 100-year-old white faÃ§ade of the Best Western Lancaster (31/ 0 20/ 535 68 88) is opposite Zoo Artis, yet close to many other sights; rooms here sleep up to four. The Hotel Atlas (31/0 20/ 6 766 336) is located in a charming Art Nouveau building (pictured at left) by the Vondelpark, and close to the P.C. Hooftstraat for shopping. The Atlas features triple rooms.
Photos courtesy of the Amsterdam Tourism & Convention Board.
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