Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Half-length portrait of a man in oriental clothing, 1635. Oil on oak, 72 x 54.5 cm, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Donation Mr. and Mrs. Kessler-Hülsmann, Kapelle-op-den-Bos.

For someone who, for all we know, never left his native country, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn had a strikingly broad horizon. As an artist, collector, and citizen, he came into contact with artifacts, objects of utility, and humans from all parts of the known world. Rembrandt’s curiosity about everything foreign and his insatiable collector’s appetite were legendary even in his lifetime and part and parcel of his singular creative genius.

Amsterdam, the center of his life, was the perfect place for a man of such boundless interests: the Dutch East and West India Companies had their headquarters and home port here, as did other trading partnerships. In the seventeenth century, the city was a true cultural melting pot. Legates and merchants from far-flung places were a daily sight in the streets of the young Dutch Republic.