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Document discovered about Rembrandt's student years in Leiden

A previously unknown document about Rembrandt’s student years in Leiden has been found in the archive of Leiden University. The document, which is being kept at the University Library, proves that Rembrandt studied at Leiden University for longer than has always been assumed.

The known matriculation of 1620

Rembrandt matriculated at Leiden University on 20 May 1620, as is apparent from the well-known entry in the volumen inscriptionum of 1618-1631, the register of all matriculations by Leiden students for that period. The Rector Magnificus, who was responsible for student matriculations at the time, asked the name of the aspiring student, which course of study he wished to take up, his age, the name of his landlord or landlady and his address. The information was then entered in the matriculation register. The entry for Rembrandt’s matriculation reads: ‘Rembrandus Hermanni Leydensis studios[us] litterarum annor[um] 14 apud parentes’, in other words: Rembrandt Harmensz. of Leiden, student of the arts, 14 years old, living with his parents (see illus. 1).

The unknown rematriculation of 1622

Less well known is that students had to rematriculate every year. Until now, it was unknown that Rembrandt, too, renewed his enrolment. Rematriculations were recorded in student registers or ‘recensielijsten’. The student register of 1622 (without dates) is the only student register to have been preserved in the archive of the University Library for the years 1608-1649. Here Rembrandt’s name again occurs as: ‘Rembrandus’, with underneath: ‘* 14 15 Hermanni bij sijn ouders’ (Harmensz., living with his parents, see illus. 2). This rematriculation has long gone unnoticed and is therefore not to be found in the well-known biographies of Rembrandt.

The rematriculation of 'Rembrandus' in the Volumen recensionum from 1622 (ASF 30).

Valuable source for research

The student register with Rembrandt’s rematriculation in 1622 is the oldest-but-one document that is directly related to the painter. This means a new source has become available for reconstructing Rembrandt’s early years in Leiden. It was traditionally assumed that Rembrandt had only been enrolled at the university for a year, preferring painting and drawing to studying. His rematriculation in 1622 is evidence that he was at least enrolled for two years, and possibly even longer. How serious a student Rembrandt was, is something which the historical matriculation and rematriculation documents held by the University Library cannot tell us. It makes it clear, however, that his time at Leiden University was more significant to the painter than was first assumed.

The discovery of Rembrandt’s rematriculation in 1622 also demonstrates the importance of Leiden University’s archives as a valuable source for education and research. The archives shed light not only on the history of the University itself but also on that of its most famous students. Rembrandt’s rematriculation was discovered while preparing for the exhibition Minerva’s Metamorphoses, which was held at the University Library to mark 444 years of Leiden University.

Video of the discovery of the document from Rembrandt's student years in Leiden

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New book on Rembrandt and Leiden University

In a new book, Rembrandt en de Universiteit Leiden, Jef Schaeps, Curator of Prints and Drawings, and Mart van Duijn, Curator of Western Manuscripts and Archives, present and discuss a selection of Rembrandt’s work in the collections of Leiden University: sources, documents, etchings and drawings – including his rematriculation. They paint a picture of Rembrandt’s Leiden years from his birth in 1606 until 1631, when he left for Amsterdam. The volume can be ordered from bookshops and through Leiden University Press.

Special public evening
On Thursday 20 June, a special evening will be held for anyone interested in the items relating to the years the celebrated painter spent as a student at Leiden. Rembrandt’s matriculation at Leiden University in 1620 will feature prominently, as will his recently discovered rematriculation in 1622. Etchings and drawings by Rembrandt and his followers from the University’s collection will also be on display. Furthermore, copies of Rembrandt en de Universiteit Leiden will be on sale. This public evening will be held from 19:30 to 21:30 at the University Library, Witte Singel 27.

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