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According to Rembrandt’s first biographer, Jan Orlers (1570–1646), the most famous Dutch painter of the 17th century was born in Leiden on 15 July 1606, the ninth child of the miller Harmen Gerritsz van Rijn and a baker’s daughter Neeltje Willemsdr van Suydtbrouck. He grew up in the Weddesteeg, across from his father’s mill. He attended the Latin school in Leiden and his parents enrolled him in the University of Leiden when he was 14, “so that upon reaching adulthood he could use his knowledge for the service of his city and the benefit of the community at large.” This, however, did not come to pass, for Rembrandt’s ambitions lay elsewhere, “his natural inclination being for painting and drawing only.” His parents took him out of school in 1621, allowing him to follow his passion. They apprenticed him to Jacob Isaacsz van Swanenburgh, who had just returned from Italy, “with whom he stayed for about 3 years.” It is during this time that Rembrandt probably painted his earliest known works: Stone Operation (Allegory of Touch), Three Musicians (Allegory of Hearing), and Unconscious Patient (Allegory of Smell).
During his last 2 decades, Rembrandt sought to develop and hone his technique into a skill whereby he could manipulate his material into creating an expressive and profound touch. Spurred by a life tormented with crippling events – the death of his first 3 children in their infancy and of his wife in delivering the fourth, bankruptcy, the loss of his house and studio, and expulsion from the Painter’s Guild – Rembrandt became preoccupied with self-scrutiny.