Edition 1 February, by Benjamin Roberts
When it comes to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) and locations in the Netherlands, we usually think of Leiden, where he was born and raised, and of course Amsterdam, where he earned his fame and fortune. But there is another location that played an important role in his life, namely Friesland, the province in which his wife Saskia van Uylenburg (1612-1642) was born, and where the couple were married in 1634.
The artist’s beloved wife was the daughter of the mayor of Leeuwarden, Rombertus van Uylenburg (1554-1612), who died when she was still a baby. In early 1633, she visited her cousin Hendrick van Uylenburg in Amsterdam. Hendrick was a craftsman painter and had several apprentices working in his workshop. One of them was a 26-year-old from Leiden named Rembrandt van Rijn. When the two met, they fell head over heels in in love. Knowing that she would have to return to Friesland, Rembrandt asked Saskia to marry him. Saskia returned to Friesland, and a year later Rembrandt joined her and the couple were officially married.
The years 2018 and 2019 mark two important occasions for Friesland and Rembrandt, which is why the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden is hosting the exhibition ‘Rembrandt and Saskia. Love and Marriage in the Dutch Golden Age’. Last year, Leeuwarden was the cultural capital of Europe, and this year commemorates the 350th year of Rembrandt’s death in 1669. To honor their marriage, the exhibition features 23 works by Rembrandt and more than 250 objects and other works that display how love and marriage in the Dutch Golden Age were portrayed in art and in daily life.
The highlight of the exhibition is a painting of Saskia, known as the ‘Kassel Saskia’ (1633/1634/1642), which Rembrandt first painted in 1633 just after he met her, and finished a year later, after they were married. In the painting, the 20-year-old Friesian girl is fair-skinned and rosy-cheeked, and has a soft gaze. It is clear that the painter is smitten by love, and captured her inner beauty as if it was intended only for him to see. Rembrandt finalized the painting nine years later, in 1642, after Saskia died from cholera. He crowned her head with a large velvet hat and placed a twig of rosemary in her hands, symbolizing his eternal and everlasting love.
In 1652, due to financial difficulties, Rembrandt sold the painting to his friend, Jan Six, and four years later Rembrandt filed for bankruptcy. He was unable to regain possession of the portrait, which remained in the Six family. In the eighteenth century it was purchased by the Duke of Hessen-Kassel in Germany, where it has remained for the last 268 years, so that it became known in the art world as the ‘Kassel Saskia’. Now for the first time, Rembrandt’s ‘Kassel Saskia’ is back in the Netherlands, and what better place to exhibit it than in Saskia’s Leeuwarden?
Fries Museum, Leeuwarden U
ntil 17 March 2019
8911 BS Leeuwardem