Lately I have visited the house where Rembrandt used to live in the centre of Amsterdam. Rembrandt was born in Leiden in 1606 but to make a careermove he moved to Amsterdam in 1631.
He bought a very expensive house in 1639 which is now a museum. The people that run the museum tried to give the impression that the interior looks similar to the interior in which Rembrandt lived. Outside you can see visitors from all over the world taking photographs, listening to a story their guide is telling them, getting excited because of that story and taking a last bite of their sandwich before getting in.
Rembrandt not only lived here but also had his studio and his artshop in the same building. Lots of painters had their education here and helped Rembrandt out some time with certain details on his paintings. He also had a certain art gallery in the house which contained works by himself but mostly works by other painters. This art gallery secured him of an extra income and of course he got aqcuainted with a lot of people amongst whom were potential clients for new orders to paint a portrait or another painting by Rembrandt himself.
For me it was not the first time in this museum but since Rembrandt is one of my favourite painters I allways like to go there from time to time. Especially because they have wonderful temporary exibitions. Right now there is an exibition called ‘Labaratory Rembrandt’ and here you can see how Rembrandt made his paintings, etchings and drawings. It is set up in a way so that you can see for yourself by way of microscopes and other tools how Rembrandt worked. And learn about the questions scientists have to deal with while examining works of the great artist (at the moment of publication there is a new exhibition called ‘Here. Black in Rembrandt’s age.).
While I was walking around the house I stumbled into a demonstration about the use of different pigments that Rembrandt used for his paintings. An expert, who also gives demonstrations at the Rijksmuseum, explained how different pigments could be made into paint. Rembrandt mixed his pigments in an ingenious way with linseed oil to create a beautiful colour. Ochre, for instance, the oldest known natural pigment was used a lot by Rembrandt. It has a brownish-yellow colour. The 15th-century painter Cennino Cennini described the uses of ochre pigments in his famous treatise on painting: ‘this pigment is found in the earth of mountains, where particular seams like sulphur are found’. Allready the Egyptians used it and Aboriginals still use it to paint their bodies.
But it is remarkable that one of the pigments you hardly find in Rembrandt’s paintings is Lapis Lazuli or azurite, the pigments to form the colour blue. In his early works you can still find parts of his paintings where he used the colour blue. I saw one of them called ‘The abduction of Europa’ at an exhibition called ‘Rembrandt. Rising star.’ in Leiden the town where he was born. An exhibition about his years as a young man in Leiden.
One explanation could be that the painting was an order by Jacques Specx, of the Dutch East India Company,who was a rich man. Rembrandt received a considerable amount of money and therefore he could use the expensive pigment to create the colour blue.
But later on it was probably a matter of style. In these days a lot of dutch painters used more warm and darker colours like for instance red, brown and yellow.
If you want to know more about the use of colours by Rembrandt stay tuned because in the near future I will write another page on this topic.
Addendum April second 2020:
Here is some extra information a friend of mine, Johanna van der Hengel-Versloot, has sent me. I thank her a lot for sharing this information with me!
Lapis Lazuli was already known in the year 4000 b.c.. It was traded in a city called Ur, a Sumerian city in the Southern part of Mesopotamia, what is nowadays south-east Irak. Later it became popular in Egypt, it was used for instance in the deathmask of Toetanchamon. At a certain point it was a much demanded pigment in the Middle-east therefore imitatations like cobalt-salts popped up in the 13th century a.d..
– De grote Rembrandt, Gary Schwartz, , Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 2000, page 92
– Cennino Cennini, The Craftsman’s Handbook (“Il Libro dell ‘Arte”), translated by Daniel V. Thompson, jr., Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1954, page 27.
Useful website: https://www.rembrandthuis.nl/