AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Not since Rembrandt lived here have so many of his works been gathered for display under the same roof where he painted them.
But in the 50 works on view at Rembrandt House, you won't find a common thread or the evolution of his art, the telltale style he supposedly developed over a 45-year career or the artist's personality.
Instead, the exhibition opening Saturday, the latest and largest event celebrating the 400th year of Rembrandt's birth, seeks to dispel some of the myths that shroud the man and his work.
"Rembrandt — Quest of a Genius" features about one-sixth of the paintings firmly attributed to the artist. About 20 were painted in the four-story gabled home where the Dutch master lived for 19 years before his overwhelming mortgage and spendthrift ways drove him into bankruptcy.
Portraits and biblical scenes cover the walls of the entrance room, where clients waited to see the artist, and are in the anteroom where Rembrandt greeted his patrons with a glass of wine and traded artworks. They fill his workshop and the top-floor studios where he taught students and painted many of his masterpieces.
Among them are two works recently rediscovered in Warsaw, "Scholar at His Desk" and the cover-item of the exhibition's catalog, "Girl in a Picture Frame." Even the basement kitchen has an exquisite piece, the small image of a maid in a white bonnet that was auctioned to a private New York collector for $4.3 million in London in January.
Rembrandt, who was born in Leiden on July 15, 1606, and died in Amsterdam in 1669, lived in the house until 1658. It was reconstructed as a museum in 1999, based on Rembrandt's own drawings and a notary's inventory that compiled all his possessions to pay off his debts.
With its narrow stairs and small rooms, it's hard to see how the exhibition will accommodate the thousands of people anticipated during its three-month run that closes July 2 before moving to Berlin.
Ernst van de Wetering, head of the Rembrandt Research Project, says one purpose of the exhibit is to break free of the stubborn popular images of Rembrandt as a misunderstood, impoverished, self-willed artist who disregarded all the rules of his craft.
Rembrandt won fame from an early age, and his name was discussed in the higher art echelons even when he was in his 20s before he moved to Amsterdam. He painted his own self-portrait dozens of times, not so much to experiment with facial expressions and exotic dress but because they sold well, van de Wetering said. Though he earned a good living, he was a poor money manager.
"So much research has been done, and so little has come to the knowledge of the general public," van de Watering said Thursday at a preview. "We want to get back to the 400-year-old Rembrandt, given all the new information we have about him as a historic figure."
Rembrandt was on a determined quest for greatness and set out to surpass all who preceded him, said van de Wetering. He did not paint with emotion, but with intellect.
Nor did his work follow a single line of progress, but rather it made erratic leaps in different directions. The exhibition shows works side-by-side from the same time that "are so different that you can't believe it's the same person," the art historian said.
It includes paintings that Rembrandt completed in a single day, and at least one on which he worked for 10 years. An audio tour highlights his use of light and shadow — especially his fascination with reflected light — and his changing ideas of portraying motion.