Rembrandt stares out at me throughout. To at least one aspect he’s younger, eyes shaded beneath tousled hair, to the opposite he’s wrinkled, gummy and turbaned, and in between variously smiling, frowning, astonished, or assured beneath a wide-brimmed hat at a rakish angle. It’s an ideal begin to my journey looking for the best of Dutch masters 350 years after his demise, within the house nation he by no means left.
This crowd of Rembrandts occupies the primary room of the Rijksmuseum’s exhibition of all its works by the artist because the centrepiece of The Yr of Rembrandt. Twenty-two work – from his solely nonetheless life to his lustrous full-length portraits, the well-known Jewish Bride to huge, ground-breaking The Evening Watch – are displayed alongside 60 drawings and 300 unique prints, hardly ever seen as a consequence of their fragility.
It was right here in Amsterdam that Rembrandt rose to fame; and right here that he died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave within the metropolis’s Westerkerk. However Holland’s most well-known son was born, raised and began his skilled life in Leiden, in the present day a half-hour prepare experience away. So I verify into the pleasant little Rembrandt Resort – no connection, however cheap and properly central – and start my tour within the artist’s footsteps on this enticing, canal-laced, cycle-strewn city.

Stroke of genius … The Jewish Bride, painted by Rembrandt between 1665 and 1669. {Photograph}: Carola van Wijk
I begin on quiet, residential Weddesteeg, the place he was born, in all probability in 1606, the ninth of 10 kids (seven surviving). The home was – shockingly – demolished within the 1970s, however the slim road nonetheless ends on the Rhine and the picturesque De Put windmill, similar to the De Rijn windmill owned by Rembrandt’s father that stood close by on high of town wall (now only a few foundations), grinding malt for making beer.

Heineken remains to be produced not removed from Leiden and right here on the town beer is consumed within the many nice bars, cafes and eating places that line the waterways, spill throughout pavements beneath gabled homes and tuck cosily into cobbled alleys. I drop into Waag, for a number of centuries the Leiden weigh home, now a bar-restaurant with wonderful meals and the simple, relaxed environment that appears to pervade the city.
It’s a historic metropolis saved younger by the scholars of the oldest college within the Netherlands, centred on the identical transformed red-and-white gothic convent it occupied when Rembrandt’s mother and father enrolled him there in 1620 on the age of 14. Behind this I discover the shady, botanical backyard that noticed the planting of Holland’s very first tulip – an occasion celebrated within the vivid flower competition held every spring.

Lasting legacy … Rembrandt Home Museum in Amsterdam. {Photograph}: Wim Wiskerke/Alamy
“These are the streets of Rembrandt’s childhood,” says my information, Marike Hoogduin, as we flip right into a slim alley and lookup on the step-gabled, red-shuttered facade of the Latin College the place Rembrandt was educated from the age of 10. Simply across the nook we discover the nice gothic bulk of the Pieterskerk the place Rembrandt’s mother and father had been married and buried, and their son baptised. A rehearsal of the Messiah echoes across the towering vaults as I love the fantastic, golden 17th-century organ.

By way of a fairly courtyard and tiny picturesque alleyway, we attain the road the place Rembrandt grew to become an artist. At all times a little bit of a insurgent, he refused to go to school and was as an alternative apprenticed within the typical Dutch house we now enter. The bottom flooring opened final yr because the Younger Rembrandt Studio. None of his scholar work survives, however an exhibition, Younger Rembrandt, opens in Leiden’s 17th-century Lakenhal Museum in November, centered on his artwork earlier than he moved to Amsterdam on the age of 25. Then as now, Amsterdam was Holland’s teeming, edgy, industrial capital – simply the place for an up-and-coming artist.
I be taught extra in regards to the supply of its wealth and selection beneath the elegant arches of what was as soon as a 17th-century dockside retailer, now the Nationwide Maritime Museum. It’s the biggest on this planet in addition to Greenwich, with a brand new wing opening subsequent month. It has a nice cafe, too, with just a few specialities, together with conventional Dutch speculaas cookies and – a left-field Dutch favorite – 16th-century Potage à la Reine, a poultry and mushroom soup created for the French royal daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici.

Instruments of his commerce … contained in the artwork room on the Rembrandt Home Museum
The aggressive commissioning of rich East India Firm retailers funded the inventive growth of the Dutch Golden Age and allowed Rembrandt to purchase a big waterside house. Contained in the Rembrandt Home Museum, I stand within the spacious, wood-floored studio the place the artist painted for almost 20 years (till he misplaced his house to chapter). The elegant entrance rooms are hung with work, as they had been when this was the artist’s store window, and the household’s residing quarters are recognisably the place he drew his spouse Saskia in her sick mattress.

When Saskia died, Rembrandt was engaged on what would turn into his most well-known portray, The Evening Watch. Commissioned as a bunch portrait of Amsterdam’s Civic Guard, it hung of their city-centre headquarters till 1715. The constructing is now the NH Doelen Resort, which I enter by means of the intense cream-and-gold lobby beneath the “atom-ball” chandelier to succeed in my solely up to date room.
After breakfast I’m proven the stays of the previous constructing, now a part of the Rembrandt Suite. Right here, a partial duplicate of The Evening Watch hangs, changing the unique. It’s no substitute for the factor itself, nevertheless. Time to hop on a ship alongside Amsterdam’s well-known canals. We go towering church buildings, a Bohemian flea market and lots of buildings and bridges that Rembrandt would have recognised.
There’s a wharf proper exterior the imposing 19th-century palace of artwork that’s the Rijksmuseum, and simply up the steps inside hangs the extraordinary unique portray. It’s the perfect spot to finish my tour, and Rembrandt is as soon as once more peering out at me. His unmistakable face peeps from behind the guardsmen, in an image that’s much less formal portrait than 17th-century video set up. It attracts you into its variegated chaos of characters, shifting exercise, hidden symbolism and really human faces . It’s edgy, particular person, avant-garde – characteristically Rembrandt, and completely Amsterdam.
Solution to go
Flights from London to Amsterdam from £23 a technique with BA. Eurostar prepare from London St Pancras from £35 a technique. Doubles at Leiden’s Rembrandt Resort from €117 room solely, and Amsterdam’s NH Doelen, from €192 room solely. Extra particulars at holland.com
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