In the studio where Rembrandt created The Night Watch, I started at the beginning, learning how to make paint.
When it was built in the early 17th century, the house would have been considered luxurious, and the renovation which added a storey with pointed gables was cutting edge 1629 architecture.
It’s on the corner of the busy Jodenbreestraat, across the road from the Albert Hein supermarket, a couple of doors down from the Simon Levelt coffee shop (NOTE: this is not one of Amsterdam’s notorious ‘coffeeshops’, meaning ‘drugstores’ – Simon really sells coffee.)
The great master’s greatest masterpieces are close by in Amsterdam’s fabulous Rijksmuseum, but the more modest Rembrandthuis has a fascinating collection of his smaller works, particularly his etchings.
While security guards in the Rijksmuseum keep potential vandals at a safe distance from Rembrandt’s works, visitors to his house are encouraged to get up close to examine his etchings with the thoughtfully provided magnifying glasses.
There are daily demonstrations of paint mixing and etching techniques.
Californian artist Eric shows us how Rembrandt would have pulverised yellow ochre or blue lapis lazuli with a pestle and mortar, added linseed oil and alcohol, then ground the paste on a slab of marble.
He does it very well in excellent English and Dutch and even makes a good fist of translating ‘linseed oil’ into Portuguese.
Making paint is hard work. Since oil paint dries and sets overnight, a fresh batch needs to be mixed each day – quite a lot of it if you have The Night Watch on the go. That’s what the great man had apprentices for, of course.
Rembrandt notoriously lived beyond his means, so when his creditors called him in for a chat, most of his own collection of art and other objects that he found inspiring had to be sold to cover his debts.
However, since the inventory from the sale survived, the house’s restorers were able to accurately refurnish rooms, including the master’s studio, with objects Rembrandt would have recognised.
While thousands queued to see Rembrandt’s work in the great Rijksmuseum, even on a public holiday we were able to walk straight through to browse the Rembrandthuis with only a handful of other visitors.
NOTES: The Rembrandthuis is open every day except New Year’s Day. Entry costs 10 euros. (Free with a Museum Card or Amsterdam Card.)
For details, see www.rembrandthuis.nl