The Rembrandt House Museum (Dutch: Museum het Rembrandthuis) is the house in Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam where Rembrandt lived and painted for nearly twenty years. It is now a museum.
Rembrandt purchased the house in 1639 and lived there until he went bankrupt in 1656, when all his belongings were auctioned. Thanks to the detailed inventory and catalogue for the auction, and also some drawings by Rembrandt, we have an unusually good idea of the contents, which has allowed the museum to reconstruct the appearance of the rooms with similar period items.
The building was constructed in 1606 and 1607 for Cornelis van der Voort in what was then known as the Sint Anthonisbreestraat. The street did not come to be called Jodenbreestraat until later. The house was built on two lots in the eastern part of the city. Many rich merchants and artists settled in this new part of town. It is a substantial two-story dwelling with a stepped gable. In about 1627-28 the house was drastically remodeled. It was given a new façade, a triangular corniced pediment—the height of modernity at the time—and another story was added. The reconstruction was probably overseen by Jacob van Campen, who was later to make his name as the architect of Amsterdam Town Hall (now The Dutch Royal Palace in Dam Square). In 1639 Rembrandt signed a contract governing the payment for the purchase of the house in Breestraat.
The visitor begins in the modern building next door which is also owned by the museum. Passing into the house at basement level, the visitor sees the large kitchen, where the whole household ate, and the maid slept. Rembrandt's printing studio contains a printing press on which reproduction etchings are printed using traditional methods, with demonstrations for visitors. The ground floor contains a large entrance hall with two reception rooms, used by Rembrandt as showrooms for his work, and the other paintings in which he dealt. He slept in one of these rooms, in a bed built into a sort of cupboard. His large studion is upstairs, as is a room dedicated to his collection, which included a large collection of prints and drawings in portfolios, but also antique sculpture casts, exotic ethnological artefacts and various specimens of natural history, including coral and shells. Another room was where his pupils worked.
Queen Wilhelmina officially opened the Rembrandt House Museum on 10 June 1911. At the suggestion of the painter Jan Veth, one of the members of the museum’s first board of governors, it had been decided to assemble a collection of Rembrandt ’s etchings, which, it was felt, could hardly be better displayed than in the house in which most of them were made. The Rijksmuseum donated eleven etchings, duplicates from its print room, which have been in the Rembrandt House ever since. The collection grew rapidly. In May 1913 thirty-three Rembrandt drawings from the famous English collection of J.P. Heseltine were auctioned in Amsterdam. The Rembrandt House succeeded in acquiring four of these: Woman with a child on her arm, The ruins of the Old Town Hall in Amsterdam, View of the Montelbaenstoren in Amsterdam and Seated girl, sleeping. The Rembrandt House bid successfully at other sales too.
Among the most important acquisitions are prints by the Leiden artists Jan Lievens and Johannes van Vliet, both of whom worked closely with Rembrandt. The collecting policy does not, however, focus solely on artists who were directly influenced by Rembrandt. The museum has spread its net wider to include his later European followers, among them many eighteenth-century German and Austrian artists. The collection now includes etchings by Christian Wilhelm Dietrich, Georg Friedrich Schmidt and others. And finally, there are the specialist areas of copies after Rembrandt and the many reproduction prints after his drawings and paintings. Today the Rembrandt House Museum attracts a great many visitors with its permanent display of Rembrandt’s etchings and with important exhibitions. The growing numbers of visitors meant that the museum had to expand. The public facilities and exhibition rooms have been moved to a new wing. This transfer has made it possible to restore Rembrandt’s house. Fortunately, the inventory of 1656 provides a detailed picture of the interior as it was in Rembrandt’s day. Drawings by the artist also reveal the character of the rooms. Experts have undertaken lengthy and detailed studies to ensure that the restoration is historically accurate.