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Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69), the son of a well-to-do miller from the university town of Leiden, was by the age of 26 Holland's most celebrated painter and has remained an artist of universal appeal. Rembrandt made his name in Amsterdam, capital of the newly independent Dutch Republic and, as the centre of a global trade empire, a magnet for merchants, writers and artists. No one understood its possibilities better than Rembrandt, or captured its personalities and landscapes more memorably.

Whether tracing the highs and lows of Rembrandt's career or explaining the unique qualities of his work, Mariët Westermann's book is always lucid and perceptive. Based on the latest Rembrandt research, it demonstrates splendidly how a contextual study can stimulate the reader's delight in the art itself.