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A Rembrandt tour for rehabilitating patients

A group of patients were given a guided tour of the larger than life Rembrandt canvases on University buildings around the Rapenburg canal. This was with the help of students from Present, a volunteer organisation, who pushed their wheelchairs over the bumpy cobblestones. The canvases are on show until 1 February.

‘This is the first time that I’ve been outside properly for months!’ said Netty Alting (83). Following an operation, she hasn’t been able to walk for some time and is staying at Topaz Revitel recovery centre in Leiden. She has chosen the right day for it: it’s a sunny morning on 16 January when she and a select group of recovering patients and the students pushing their wheelchairs are given a guided tour of the Rembrandts on the University buildings. Seven larger than life works by the 17th-century master reveal the special links between Rembrandt and the University: he was enrolled as an arts student and went on to paint the portraits of various men – such as Dr Nicolaes Tulp and Marten Soolmans – who also studied in Leiden.

A real Rembrandt

Alting has never seen a Rembrandt painting from close up. By the end of the tour she has made a resolution: ‘When I’ve recovered, I want to see a real Rembrandt in a museum.’ She is grateful to the students, as is Hannie Janson (61), who has broken her leg and won’t be able to walk again for some time. She moved to Leiden a year ago and had seen some of the canvases while out on her bike. ‘But I didn’t know the story behind them.’

The portrait of Marten Soolmans’ wife Oopjen isn’t hanging on the facade of Leiden Law School. Netty Alting is shown Oopjen’s portrait on a phone


For her part, medical student Nanette is pleased to be able to help. ‘As a student, you mainly invest in yourself and your studies – it’s only later that other people benefit from this. But I want to be able to help people now.’ Alongside two Dutch students, a German and a Brazilian student have come to help. They have volunteered because they want to come into contact with Dutch people, they say. ‘It’s a win-win situation,’ says Doortje van Helden, who arranged for the volunteers. As coordinator of Stichting Present, she finds volunteers for people who need help or could use some distraction. Interested? See the Present Foundation website [in Dutch]. Fancy doing the Rembrandt tour? Don’t wait too long because this unique outdoor exhibition – to mark the 444th anniversary of the University – runs until 1 February this year.

Text: Linda van Putten
Photos: Melissa Schriek

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