All aspects of the life and work of Rembrandt (1606-1669) have been celebrated this year. At least twenty exhibitions have been organised in the Netherlands as well as in many other museums and galleries in the world. It was a golden year for new books and TV programmes, such as ‘Looking for Rembrandt’ (BBC 4, April 2019; blog/2019-03-doc13-looking-for-rembrandt) and September/October 2019 on Dutch TV ‘Rembrandt, the mystery’ (Het raadsel Rembrandt), presented by Onno Blom, the 2019 biographer of the Dutch book ‘The young Rembrandt’, focusing on the first 25 years of Rembrandt’s life, in the city Leiden.
With all these exuberant festivities and oohs and ahhs, one tends to forget that the year 2019 marks Rembrandt’s death, 350 years ago. After his cessio bonorum (‘bankruptcy’) in 1656, and compulsory sales of his house (now ‘Museum Het Rembrandthuis’) in 1658, Rembrandt (and his family) moved to Rozengracht 184 in Amsterdam. He dies some 11 years later. He is burried in the Westerkerk, a few minutes away from where he last resided.
In the Register of Deaths of the church it is recorded: ‘On 4 October 1669 [my] cousin, Rembrant van Rhijn, painter died (‘den 4 8b[er] is overleeden neeff Rembrant van Rhijn schilder’). The date of his passing away is given in a note by a relative of Rembrandt, Nicolaes Sebastiaensz Vinck. He is an apothecary residing in de Sonnebloem (‘The Sunflower’) in Amsterdam. Vinck was a distant relative of Rembrandt on his mother’s side.
Rembrandt’s funeral took place four days later, on 8 October 1669. The Chamber of Orphans’ Register of Death provides ‘Rembrant van Reyn painter Rose gracht 8 October – – -2 [children]’ (‘Rembrant van Reyn schilder Rose gracht 8 8ber – – -2 [kinderen]’). These two children were Cornelia, his unlawful daughter with Hendrickje Stoffels, and his grandchild Titia, the daughter of his deceased son, Titus and his wife Magdalena van Loo. The cause of Rembrandt’s death, 63 years at the time, is unknown.
Presently, Rozengracht 184 is an an inconspicuous building. Above the middle window of the first floor a simple, almost square facing brick with a round cartouche in 17th century form is attached to the wall. In six separate lines it is said: Here / was / Rembrandt’s / last / house †4:10•1669 (‘Hier / stond / Rembrandt’s /laatste / woning / †4:10•1669’). The date of installation of this memorial stone, however, is unknown. Van Eeghen (Van Eeghen, 1969e), describing the house, its owner and its tenants, does not mention its existence. From her description, however, it is known that in 1909 the façade of the house was modernized and took its current form with the balcony on the first floor. Boas (Boas (1939), 3), is likely the first to have made an (incomplete) reference to the memorial stone and its text. The most probable date for placing the cartouche seems to be 1919, the year in which it was 250 years ago that Rembrandt died at the current address. Since 2013, the ground floor of the house is the location of a tattoo shop.
In the Westerkerk where Rembrandt was burried, the exact location of his grave is not known; it is not indicated in the records of burial plots, and not specified in the Register of Deaths. Bredius (Bredius (1921), 585), with a sense of drama, notes that only a few stood by Rembrandt’s deathbed: ‘The question is whether even his daughter-in-law was present. A widow, Rebecca Willems, who nursed him, and his daughter [Cornelia] were perhaps the only ones who surrounded him. On 5 [!] October he blew out his last breath, and on 8 October he was brought to earth in the Westerkerk with subtle simplicity’. In the same church, Titus was burried a year earlier.
Already a day after Rembrandt’s passing away, on 5 October 1669, a notary calls at the home of the deceased Rembrandt on the Rozengracht 184 and draws up an inventory of the estate. His inventory is found in several spaces in the house. It is to be found in the parlor, the entrance hall, the inner chamber, the rear kitchen and the small back room (maybe even a little ‘achterhuis’?). The inventory covers fifty entries and includes twentysix unfinished paintings. Gerrit Steeman, the notary in charge, also adds to the inventory the following declaration: ‘The remaining property, including paintings, drawings, curios, antiques and other objects (‘… de vordere goederen soo van schilderijen, teyckenen, rariteyten, antiquiteyten en anders’) have been placed in three separate rooms, the doors of which were locked by me, the notary, in addition, this door was sealed with my signet and the keys were taken into my custody. All this on request of Mrs. Magdalena van Loo, the widow of Titus van Rijn and Mr. Christiaen Dusart, guardian of Cornelia van Rijn, with the explicit stipulation, voiced in the presence of us, the notary and witnessses, that they did not yet wish to declare themsleves legatees of the deceased but wanted to reserve the right and [decide] later on’.
Evidently, this sets the ball rolling for another round of legal disputes, Rembrant has been rather famous for: what the value of Rembrandt’s inheritence? Was due rent still outstanding? Did he pay the rent? Did he have any debtors? Did he ‘borrow’ from Cornelia’s savings, locked in the cupboard? Who is the heir? The man passed away, but legal conflicts just continue.
Back to October 1669. Four days after his death Rembrandt is carried to the grave in the Westerkerk by sisteen bearers (‘baer 16 roff’). The grave was rented and did not carry any headstone. It was not until 1906 that a memorial mark was placed there, (thus Bredius) ‘… indicating the resting place of our greatest artist, one of the greatest among the great, who made the world happy with the immortal wrought of their minds’. The year 1906 marked Rembrandt’s year of birth, at that time 300 years ago.
On Thursday 3 October and Friday 4 October in Rembrandt’s place of birth, Leiden, large celebrations are ongoing for Leidens Ontzet (the Relief of Leiden), the defeat of the Spaning rulers in 1574. Everyone in Leiden still enjoys the Leiden victory, eat hutspot (hodge-podge, sort of carrot and onion stew), herring and white bread and sing during the Reveille! Someone may remember, Rembrandt’s death, 350 years ago.