The Rembrandt Teaching Project
Teaching Guide Lesson Plan

A View of Amsterdam
Details of the Work


Title: View of Amsterdam (c. 1640)
Size: 4 1/2 x 6 in (11.3 x 15.4 cm)
Medium: Etching (only state)
Location: Museum het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam


Lesson Preview
This lesson gives students a geographical sense of place, speaking about Rembrandt in the context of the city of Amsterdam. It also introduces the artistic medium of the etching and discusses Rembrandts mastery of the form.


A View Of Amsterdam

Background of the Work

Around the year 1630, coinciding with Rembrandts arrival, Amsterdam was at the beginning of its heyday. It was a highly prosperous, rapidly growing commercial center reflecting Hollands central role in world trade. Its population was approximately 150,000 people, many of whom had settled there because of a desire to participate in its commerce. The harbor was full of ships from all parts of the world bringing to Amsterdam exotic cargoes of food, clothing and household materials. Buildings were being constructed throughout the city to accommodate the rapid influx of people. In addition to its cosmo-politan character, Amsterdam was also a seat of learning and culture. Universities and other centers of education were being founded. Most fortunate for Rembrandt, there were enough people in Amsterdam who were interested in studying painting and acquiring art. This helped it to become one of the most important artistic hubs in Europe.


Description of the Work
The drypoint etching of Amsterdam depicts the city as it appeared during Rembrandts time. This view of Amsterdam was attained by walking in a northeasterly direction from Rembrandts home until one reached the outermost bulwark of Amsterdam. Across the surrounding meadows, from left to right, the following structures are seen:

the Haringpakkerstoren, the Oude Kerk (Old Church),Montelbaarnstoren, which Rembrandt was to draw later, the warehouses of the East and West India Companies, the windmill on the Rijzenhoofd and finally the Zuiderkerk.



Introducing the Lesson

Teacher begins by explaining the process of etching during Rembrandts time.

The Etching: The art of etching was very popular during Rembrandts time. An etching was made by waxing a copper plate and then drawing directly with a sharp needle into the waxed ground. The plate was then immersed in a corrosive acid which ate into the metal exposed by the etched lines not covered by wax. By controlling the length of time acid remains on the plate, the artist is able to control the fineness and/or depth of the lines. A few minutes immersion was sufficient to etch the drawing onto the plate. The plate was then washed to remove all traces of acid inked with a roller and held over a special stove. Heating the plate ensured the ink penetrated right into the etched lines. The plate was wiped with a clean cloth allowing ink to remain only in the etched grooves. The plate was then placed on the bed of a press which moved between the machines rollers. A sheet of moistened paper was laid on the plate and covered with a felt blanket. When the press wheel turned, the entire package of bed, plate, paper and blanket passed between the two rollers. Under intense pressure, the damp paper was forced into the etched grooves absorbing all the ink. The artists usually examined the result and generally the procedure was repeated several times. Usually, one plate was used to make many copies that were signed and numbered by the artist. Etching allowed these multiple copies to be made and widely distributed serving to publicize the work of the artist. Because prints were relatively cheap, they were found in many Dutch homes. They tended to be the preferred medium because prints were used on such items as calendars and traditional stories. It was only a short while before these etchings were used to produce illustrated periodicals, forerunners of the modern newspaper. [The teacher may wish to stress both the composition of etching and how the process of etching developed. Students should be instructed to observe the etching carefully and comment on its overall appearance noting how it differs from a painting.]


1. Developing the Lesson

Display View of Amsterdam. Some questions for discussion may include the following:

(1). What do you see in this etching? How is it different from a painting?

(2). How would this work be classified as a portrait, landscape, or history picture? Support your opinion.

(3). What are some structures depicted in the drawing? What are some geometric shapes that are seen as parts of these structures?

(4). Identify clues this etching gives you about a part of the city of Amsterdam.

(5). What can you infer about life in Rem- brandts Amsterdam from this etching? Is there any emotion shown in the drawing? Is there a mood about Amsterdam created?

(6). Are there are people in the drawing? If so, describe them. Are they important to the work? Why?

(7). What inferences can be made about the following by observing Life in Amsterdam: Jobs, the Environment, Trade, Architecture, Transportation.

(8). Based upon this etching, would you like to have lived in the Amsterdam of Rembrandt? Why or why not?

2. Extending the Lesson

(1). The Amsterdam of 1630 was a unique architectural environment. The city planner and architect was named Hendrick de Keyser, who designed the characteristic red-brick Dutch houses with sandstone decorations and elaborate gables. Show some of these types of homes to students and have them attempt to create a Dutch cityscape of the seventeenth century to scale. (Art Production)

(2). Take a walk around your own neighborhood and create a photo essay of what is observed. (Art Production)


3. Assessing the Lesson

Have the students first define and then demonstrate perspective. Examine the etching in terms of perspective. Observe the work in detail. What kind of perspective do you see? How is each structure drawn? What is the role of scale in this work? How tall are the structures? Are they each the same height? Why or why not?
The Holland of Rembrandts time was an interesting place politically. Before Rembrandt was born, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland were one country known as The Netherlands ruled by the King of Spain. In 1579, the country was split into two with the southern part remaining under Spanish rule and the northern part, now called Holland, breaking away to rule itself. The leader of the Dutch republic was called the stadtholder. The stadtholder during the time of Rembrandt was Prince Frederick Henry.