The Rijksmuseum’s room on the Young Rembrandt and his time which is as uncrowded as the Late Rembrandt show is mobbed. Crowds understandably paw their way through to see that special exhibit, as well as the Night Watch and the other Rembrandt masterpieces. But if you have seen what you want of the “Greatest Hits” in the Gallery of Honor — Rembrandt in his prime, Vermeer, other masters of Dutch painting — you may be ready for a break.
The Young Rembrandt room epitomizes the best of what the museum did during ten years of renovation, giving context for the artist’s life and later work through objects and furnishings as well as paintings. It’s fascinating to see how innovative he was even as a very young man, painting a self portrait lit from behind among other surprising works. Looking at his contemporaries shows the class Rembrandt was a part of, so it’s easier to see just what was innovative and exciting about his lighting and choosing of the moment when a story was at its most dramatic.
While there is much to comment upon in that room, what charmed me most was a portrait of Johannes Lutma, an Amsterdam silversmith, by Jacob Backer, and the objects which accompany it. His face has such an open quality, and the painting is smooth and serene, the opposite of Hals’ bold brushstrokes. Lutma clearly preferred a more polished style, both for him and for his wife, whose portrait hangs nearby.
Since portraits were Rembrandt’s bread and butter for years, it’s interesting to notice that, while the accuracy in Backer’s work is admirable and also characteristic of Rembrandt, the depth of emotion that often radiates from Rembrandt’s work does not seem to be there.
In the adjacent display case, I noticed a silver trowel attributed to Lutma’s. I was far moreinterested in it than I would have been had I only seen the object on its own, as if a friend of a friend had made it. Beside it was an engraved gold medal Lutma created for the four children who had important roles in the 1648 laying of the first stone of the Amsterdam Town Hall (now the Royal Palace thanks to Napoleon, but that’s another story).
To give us a further sense of Rembrandt’s environment as a young man, we see a carved arch from a great canal house, furniture with magnificent inlay of ivory into ebony, a ceremonial silver platter, and a great painting by Van Dyke of the marriage of William and Mary, two children barely touching hands. On the other side of the room we see her as a widow at age 19, left with only the orange in her hand. The sense of interconnections in this room is profound. the more time you spend there, the more you will be spun into the web of the young Rembrandt’s world.