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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Rembrandt & Anne of Amsterdam

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Holland 2 - Museums of two famous residents

Rembrandt & Anne Frank

The Jewish Market in Amsterdam buzzed in the morning. The food stalls, in particular, were tempting. I don’t exactly remember what I had, but some titbits definitely to satiate a desire normally triggered by delectable display of street foods. After hanging around in the market for a brief period, we took a Line 9 tram to Waterlooplein stop. We got down at the corner of the street leading to Rembrandt House. My knowledge on Rembrandt was very limited at that time. I only knew that he was a Dutch artist. My stupid brain seemed to have advised me against spending money and watching some paintings of a single artist. Instead I preferred to relax on a bench in the open overlooking a canal below with a cup of coffee and enjoy the sight of tourist laden motorboats streaming past. My wife, on the other hand, had studied a lot about Rembrandt before coming to Amsterdam. She briefed me and also convinced me in changing my plans. The beautiful four storied house was built in early seventeenth century. Rembrandt lived and worked here between 1639 and 1658. What an illusion? So subtly it has blended with modern surroundings and buildings which have not yet crossed half a century, it becomes extremely difficult to appreciate the fact that the building where Rembrandt stayed is older than my city Calcutta which was founded in 1690.What is more amazing is the strong look of the building – as if it’s never going to crumble and look the same even after thousand years or so. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is regarded as one of the greatest visual artist in the history of art. He was an all rounder-a draughtsman, painter, printmaker, art collector and dealer. Although he never stepped out of Holland during his lifetime he was greatly influenced by artwork of Peter Paul Ruben, whose gigantic floor to ceiling paintings we saw at Kuntz Museum in Vienna. Rembrandt’s subject matter covered self portraits, portraits, biblical scenes (both old and new testaments), and scenes from history. He was visionary at the same time. He drew portraits, where he tried to bring out the feelings and thoughts of a person through the eyes of the portraits. The uniqueness of the museum is the upkeep of the interiors of the house. It narrates how Rembrandt, as art dealer, collected and stored paintings, sculptures and models from different corners of Europe ; built a studio and imparted training to budding artists; arrangement of tools and ink for etching which he had mastered and pioneered. Apart from his professional activities he used to live in this house. Like the utensils, crockery and cutleries Rembrandt and his family used 400 years back; the beds (half the length of today’s cots) with huge pillows and blankets in separate covered enclosures; the tables and chairs and other seventeenth century household items – all kept in proper places in perfect condition and shape.What was most stupefying was the way people slept those days - on 'half beds'. We struggled to find an answer,and has been able to get one. In 1642, in his work on sleeping position, a Swedish Royal Physician Andreas Sparman recommended that 'people should sleep in a sitting position'. This prevents fluids from the stomach leak out resulting in a scenario such as 'the head is filled with overflow'. I have not been able to ascertain as to how far this is true, because we are all used to sleeping on full sized bed  in lying posture.





Kitchen utensils used 400 years ago in Rembrandt's house



Another view of Kitchen in Rembrandt's house



Inside Rembrandt's studio

The cubicle in which Rembrandt's bed is located

Self portrait of Rembrandt sleeping



Light,shade and shadow depictions in Rembrandt's painting

The Spectacles Seller (Oil on panel). The expressions he brought out in his paintings told the story.

A write up on the above painting


Rembrandt was an art dealer. Although he never stepped out of Holland,he collected the masterpieces from all over the world.The famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin said that comparing him with Rembrandt is a sacrilege

Rembrandt's Studio

Self portrait of Rembrandt




Flight into Egypt is one of the finest etchings of Rembrandt

Jesus Christ brought before the Roman Governor Pontium Pilate



Rembrandt was a master story teller






Techniques and ingredients for etching



17th century stairway


























This unique painting of an old man showing effect of lighting on his head from behind.This was conceived by Rembrandt at a time when there was no electrical light source.


Easel used by Rembrandt in his studio


Another view of Rembrandt's studio with collection of sculptures he arranged from different parts of the world

Impression of depth created by etching technique used by Rembrandt






Refer the earlier image of Jesus brought before the Roman Governor. In this Rembrandt removed the crowd in front of the dais




Christ and the Woman of Samaria was Rembrandt's favourite subject







Self portrait of Rembrandt with his wife Saskia








Not far from the house of Rembrandt is the building which once served as the hiding place of a thirteen year old Jewish girl Anne Frank (Annelies Marie Frank).Located on Prinsengracht and facing the Amsterdam Canal, the place is connected by Tram no. 13, 14 and 17. A long queue outside the museum for tickets is a usual scene, and on our day it serpentined upto the tram stop on the plaza. Despite about two long hours of wait we were not disgruntled as the weather was pleasant, people from every nook and corner of the world were present and the queue inched forward steadily. Soon, we were inside the sombre interiors of Anne’s father’s warehouse and back office which became famous with the discovery of the ‘Diary’ penned by the little girl for almost three long years she was holed up in the secret annex. After German forces occupied Netherlands in 1941, they immediately set about targeting the Jewish Community. To escape the ordeals, Otto Frank (a business man in Amsterdam) went into hiding with his wife, two daughters and four other members of Jewish community at the secret annex located on the top of his warehouse and back office.  The hiding rooms are located at the rear of this 17th century canal house. The activities during the day used to take place at the ground level where the warehouse was located. Save for that the building wore an abandoned look from outside. The occupants had to be careful not to open any windows facing the canal, to use the toilet and kitchen only after the warehouse closed in the evening.  The doorway to the secret annex was concealed by a moveable bookcase specially made for the purpose, and is now one of the exhibits in the museum. Throughout the tenure of their hiding, Otto Frank’s non-Jewish friends, among them Miep Gies smuggled in food and other supplies for the inmates. For three long years these inmates lived in an extreme state of discomfiture – not able to use washroom during the day lest the sound of water through the drainage pipe betrays their presence, open the windows or the blind, and only cautiously use candles in the night. All these were followed to ensure that the house presents an abandoned look to the people outside. Under such conditions of solitary confinement Anne found solace in writing. Anne aspired to be a journalist as she was aware of her talent. The diary, where she recorded her thoughts and experience during hiding, reflects precocity in her style and insight . Reflects emotional growth amid diversity.   The last entry in the diary was dated August 1 1944, three days before the Gestapo stormed in on information from Dutch informer. Otto was sent to Auschwitz, while Anne along with her mother and sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen.These places were infamous for labour and concentration camps set up by the Nazis. People found unfit and children below 15 were gassed. Anne was spared of Gas Chamber as she was a few months over 15. But she developed scabies due to extremely unhealthy conditions in these camps. It is said that she and her sister perished in early 1945 when typhus epidemic broke out, and Anne’s mother died of starvation. All a couple of months before the British soldiers liberated the camp. An inmate who survived the holocaust last saw Anne ‘bald, emaciated and shivering’. The tragedy is that this prodigious girl, who developed a vision and insight unheard of at her age, never lived to see her success as one of the greatest writers of the holocaust. The diary was discovered and retrieved after WWII from the debris (left behind by the Gestapo) by Anne’s father, the only surviving member of the Frank family, and published in its Dutch version in 1947. Later, it was translated into English and several other languages. At one place she wrote ‘grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s inside me. When I write I can shake off all my cares, my sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived.' But the most important message she left for the mankind is’ I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are good at heart’. When we exited Anne Frank Museum, we saw Prinsengracht Canal. I wondered how this canal was a silent spectator to the travails of Anne Frank and her family. Coming out in the open from the dungeon, I felt highly privileged to have visited the house where Anne wrote the moving diary-at least I could pay respect to this wonderful person. At the same time I was in a dazed state of mind. Struggling to figure out as to why she wrote ‘People are good at heart’, despite the trauma she was subject to from none other but mankind. Once in the open we started strolling towards Amsterdam Central. On our way we stopped on the canal bridges to have a wonderful view of the city of canals. Finally we found an eatery, and decided to sit outside so that we could watch the attractive looking trams move by while devouring on French cuisine.



Anne Frank's House












A Roadside French cafe

All the above pics captured here are in the neighbourhood of the house where Anne Frank and her family went into hiding

Photo Courtesy : Arundhati Sengupta



How to visit these places

I found tram the most comfortable mode of transport at Amsterdam. For Rembrandt House take Line 9 tram from Amsterdam Central and get down at Waterlooplein stop. For Anne Frank's House take Line 13,14, or 17 from Amsterdam Central and get down at Prinsengracht station.



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