Rembrandt van Rijn - Rembrandt House

In 1639 Rembrandt van Rijn, who was born in Leyde, bought the red-shuttered house at 4-6 Jodenbreestraat. He was by then an established painter, living already since 9 years in Amsterdam, and had further secured his creature comforts by marrying 5 years ago a wealthy heiress, Saskia van Uylenburgh. I figure things haven’t changed since about money marriages.  It would be the most prolific 21 years of his existence (1639-1660). The orders are coming in and it is the year when he paints the famous “Night watch”. ;-). As he settled in the middle of a Jewish quarter it provided him with many of his models, especially when he was painting the biblical themes he loved. It was really not usual at those times to go and live among Jews. His neighbors are his friends: the scientist Menasse ben Israel, the rabbi of Amsterdam, Ephraim Bueno, a Jewish Portuguese physician and Jan Lutma, a wealthy jeweler. Saskia and Rembrandt lived on the ground floor, in the back room. The atelier was on the first floor. It’s here that his son Titus was born (1641) and Saskia died in 1642. From now on he falls on hard times and his work is no longer fashionable. He is declared bankrupt in 1656 and the house sold. Rembrandt moves out of the Jewish quarter and in 1660 settles down in the Jordaan area (then a very poor quarter).

The Rembrandt house is now a museum, with 250 of his etchings on show—too many to take in at one gulp. But not one Rembrandt painting, don’t get any illusions.

Turn left as you come out of the Rembrandt house and then right into Waterlooplein. The flat area on the banks of the river Amstel is an artificial island, raised above flood-level from a swampy sandbank in the late 16th century. The first Jewish Sepharad immigrants from Portugal began to settle here. They could afford to build salubrious homes overlooking the Amstel. The later poorer Ashkenazi from the east crammed into rookeries island, and the district became densely populated, a three dimensional labyrinth of alleys and tenements. It was not until the late 19th century that the district took a turn for the better. In the post war years the Jewish quarter was a ghost town in every sense of the word. Of its 120,000 people, only 8,000 survived the nazi pogroms and deportations.

The daily market held here, though colorful enough, is a mere shadow of the original flea market. Its clutter of stalls, selling neo-hippie gear, cheap jewellery, junk, old clothes and perhaps the occasional original antique is duplicated in similar markets all over Europe.

The complex of modern buildings which occupies the site between the Waterlooplein and the river Amstel is the “Muziektheater”. Familiarly known as the “Stopera”, it houses the National Ballet, the Netherlands Dance Theatre, the Netherlands Opera and the new Stadhuis (Town Hall). There are cafes and restaurants within the complex and is not a bad place for refreshment on a winter or spring day, when the Waterlooplein can be chilly and windswept.

We come now to the Jonas Daniel Meijer plein separating the grand Portuguese synagogue from the Jewish Historical Museum. In the middle, under the tress, a bronze statue, the “Dokwerker” (the dock laborer) reminding us that the dock laborers of Amsterdam’s port were the first to go on general strike to protest against the first raids on Jews by the nazis. 22th of February 1941: the Germans assemble the Jews on this square to arrest and deport them. The docker’s strike was followed by a solidarity movement by Amsterdam’s population. But the strike was soon tamed in blood and tears.





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