Paul Rembrandt van Rhyn, one of the most eminent painters and engravers of the Dutch school, was the son of a miller, and was born in 1606, at a small village on the banks of the Rhine, between Leyderdorp and Leyden, whence he was called Rembrandt van Rhyn, though his family name was Gerretz. It is said that his father, being in easy circumstances, intended him for one of the learned professions, but was induced by Rembrandt's passion for the art to allow him to follow his inclination. He entered the school of J. van Zwaanenberg at Amsterdam, where he continued three years, and made such surprising progress as astonished his instructor. Having learned from Zwaanenberg all he was capable of imparting, he next studied about six months with Peter Lastmann, and afterwards for a short time with Jacob Pinas, from whom it is said he acquired that taste for strong contrasts of light and shadow, for which his works are so remarkable. He was, however, more indebted for his best improvement to the vivacity of his own genius, and an attentive study of nature, than to any information he derived from his instructors. On returning home, he fitted up an attic room, with a skylight, in his father's mill, for a studio, where he probably pursued his labors for several years, as he did not remove to Amsterdam till 1630. Here he studied the grotesque figure of the Dutch boor, or the rotund contour of the bar-maid of an ale house, with as much precision as the great artists of Italy have imitated the Apollo Belvidere, or the Medicean Venus. He was exceedingly ignorant, and it is said that he could scarcely read. He was of a wayward and eccentric disposition, and sought for recreation among the lowest orders of the people, in the amusements of the ale-house, contracting habits which continued through life; even when in prosperous circumstances, he manifested no disposition to associate with more refined and intellectual society. It will readily be perceived that his habits, disposition, and studies could not conduct him to the noble conceptions of Raffaelle, but rather to an exact imitation of the lowest order of nature, with which he delighted to be surrounded. The life of Rembrandt is much involved in fable, and in order to form a just estimate of his powers, it is necessary to take these things into consideration. It is said by some writers, that, had he studied the antique, he would have reached the very perfection of the art, but Nieuwenhuys, in his review of the Lives and Works of the most eminent painters of the Dutch and Flemish schools, in Smith's Catalogue raisonné, vol xii. and supplement, says that he was by no means deficient on that point. "For it is known that he purchased, at a high price, casts from the antique marbles, paintings, drawings, and engravings by the most excellent Italian masters, to assist him in his studies, and which are mentioned in the inventory of his goods when seized for debt."

He then goes on to give a list of the works so seized. Be this as it may he certainly never derived any advantage from them. He had collected a great variety of old armor, sabres, flags, and fantastical vestments, ironically terming them his antiques, and frequently introducing them into his pictures.

Rembrandt had already brought both the arts of painting and engraving to very great perfection (in his own way), when a slight incident led him to fame and fortune. He was induced by a friend to take one of his choicest pictures to a picture-dealer at the Hague, who, being charmed with the performance, instantly gave him a hundred florins for it, and treated him with great respect. This occurrence served to convince the public of his merit, and contributed to make the artist sensible of his own abilities. In 1630 he went to Amsterdam, where he married a handsome peasant girl (frequently copied in his works), and settled there for life. His paintings were soon in extraordinary demand, and his fame spread far and wide; pupils flocked to his studio, and he received for the instruction of each a hundred florins a year. He was so excessively avaricious that he soon abandoned his former careful and finished style, for a rapid execution; also frequently retouched the pictures of his best pupils, and sold them as his own. His deceits in dating several of his etchings at Venice, to make them more saleable, led some of his biographers to believe that he visited Italy, and resided at Venice in 1635 and 1636; but it has been satisfactorily proved that he never left Holland, though he constantly threatened to do so, in order to increase the sale of his works. As early as 1628, he applied himself zealously to etching, and soon acquired great perfection in the art. His etchings were esteemed as highly as his paintings, and he had recourse to several artifices to raise their price and increase their sales. For example, he sold impressions from the unfinished plates, then finished them, and after having used them, made some slight alterations, and thus sold the same works three or four times; producing what connoisseurs term variations in prints. By these practices, and his parsimonious manner of living, Rembrandt amassed a large fortune.