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‘Rembrandt has come home’

Rembrandt Year is concluding with a major exhibition at Museum De Lakenhal. There are still numerous other activities such as lectures, the University Rembrandt Route and the screening of a critical documentary.

‘Rembrandt has come home,’ are the words on everyone’s lips at Museum De Lakenhal. The Dutch master was born in Leiden in 1606 and lived there until at least the age of 25, when he left for Amsterdam. Barely a kilometre away from this Leiden museum, the young Rembrandt learnt his craft and produced impressive paintings, prints and etchings that now hang in top museums in the world. A large number of these early Leiden works have been on show since 2 November in the exhibition Young Rembrandt – Rising star at Museum De Lakenhal.

Let the Little Children Come to Me (ca. 1627). Jan Six Fine Art Collection. The boy at the top right (wearing a white robe) is thought to be a self-portrait.

Rapid development

‘These first works are still a bit awkward,’ says curator Christiaan Vogelaar as he describes Rembrandt’s earliest period. A Peddlar Selling Spectacles, for instance, from 1624, is painted in a somewhat crude style. But Rembrandt developed rapidly, as visitors to the exhibition can see. What makes the exhibition unique is that some of the presumed pendants have been reunited for the first time, such as History Painting (1626) from Museum De Lakenhal and The Stoning of Stefanus (1625) from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. Another first is the much-discussed Let the Little Children Come to Me (ca. 1627). Jan Six purchased this painting at an auction in Cologne in 2014 after recognising one of the figures as a self-portrait of Rembrandt.  

Christ at Emmaus (ca.1628). Musée Jacquemart André (Paris).

Unique discovery

The intriguing Christ at Emmaus (ca. 1628) with a mysterious silhouette of Jesus has not been on show in the Netherlands in recent times. With his biblical and mythological scenes, Rembrandt shows that he was a learned man, which brings Vogelaar to the discovery of Rembrandt’s re-enrolment at Leiden University. Earlier this year, Mart van Duijn, the curator of Leiden University Library, found a 17th-century book with re-enrolments from 1622, and among the names was Rembrandt. This meant that he was enrolled as a student of the arts for not just one year, 1620, but at least two. This historical document can also be seen at the exhibition, which will run until 9 February 2020.

The re-enrolment of ‘Rembrandus’ in 1622.

Outdoor exhibition

One day before, on 8 February 2020, is when the outdoor exhibition Rembrandt & Leiden University: The Bigger Picture. Large reproductions of seven works by Rembrandt hang on the exterior of University buildings to highlight the special relationship between Rembrandt and the University. The reproduction of Rembrandt’s portrait of Marten Soolmans, who studied law in Leiden, now graces the School of Law. And Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Heavy Fur Cap is hanging on the University Library, which has around 100 prints and two etchings by Rembrandt. Follow the route while you still can. 

Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Heavy Fur Cap on the facade of the University Library.

P.J. Blok Lecture by Onno Blom

In his lecture on 7 November Rembrandt van Rijn, student dropout [in Dutch], Rembrandt biographer Onno Blom will also explain how Rembrandt would have been influenced by the University. For a long time, it was thought that Rembrandt only enrolled as a student for the fringe benefits including tax-free beer. But that idea is beginning to change since the discovery of his re-enrolment. The academic collections and facilities such as the anatomical theatre would have inspired the young Rembrandt in many ways.

Critical documentary at LIFF

The preoccupation with Rembrandt has also attracted some criticism. The documentary I am Rembrandt [in Dutch] questions whether Leiden has become a theme park for its 17th-century son. Journalists Yaël Vinckx and Alex Bordewijk, both from Leiden themselves, explore the limits to tourism. The film will be screened at Leiden International Film Festival (LIFF) on 10 November.

Studium Generale lecture by Christiaan Vogelaar

Curator Christiaan Vogelaar is fascinated by Rembrandt’s ability to continually reinvent himself. In his lecture The Young Rembrandt [in Dutch] on 10 December, he will discuss how although Rembrandt was inspired by earlier masters, his rapid development was mainly because he was not afraid to experiment.

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