Rembrandt’s Empty Bookshelf

We remember the Dutch Golden Age for its paintings – which may be why so few realise that it was Europe’s publishing powerhouse. 

Man Reading, attributed to Rembrandt, c.1648.

When, in 1656, Rembrandt was forced to declare bankruptcy, a full inventory of his remaining possessions was made. Among the paintings, furniture and household goods at the house on the Breestraat were just 22 books. By this time Rembrandt, one of the greatest artists of the age, had fallen a long way. An earlier sale had cleared out most of his art collection; what remained was the sad residue of a rampageous and self-indulgent celebrity lifestyle. The fact that Rembrandt possessed so few books, in Amsterdam of all places, was a fitting mark of his near destitution. The Dutch Republic was a land teeming with books. Its publishers produced some of the most fabulous books of the age. Its citizens raead and owned more books than anywhere else in Europe.

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