Hendrickje Stoffels (1626 – 21 July 1663) was the longtime lover of Rembrandt. The couple were unable to marry because of the financial settlement linked to the will of Rembrandt's deceased wife Saskia, but they remained together until Hendrickje's death. In the later years of their relationship Hendrickje managed Rembrandt's business affairs together with the painter's son Titus.
Hendrickje is widely believed to have modelled for several of Rembrandt's works and to be depicted in some Tronie portraits. However, her role as Rembrandt's model is disputed by some critics.
Hendrickje was born in the garrison city of Bredevoort, Gelderland, the daughter of sergeant Stoffel Stoffelse and Mechteld Lamberts. Sergeant Stoffel Stoffelse was Jager (hunter) for the castle at Bredevoort and so was also nicknamed Jeger, with his children nicknamed 'Jegers', but always officially referred to as 'Stoffels'.
Hendrickje had three brothers: Hermen, Berent and Frerick. Hermen and Berent were longtime soldiers in Bredevoort, never serving elsewhere. Berent and Frerick both died young. Hendrickje had a sister, Martijne Jegers, and perhaps also another sister, Margriete. Martijne married Jan Kerstens Pleckenpoel from Lichtenvoorde, who was another soldier in Bredevoort. After his death Martijne remarried, to Berent van Aelten.
Hendrickje's father almost certainly died in July 1646, the victim of an explosion of the gunpowder tower in Bredevoort. In January 1647, after the normal mourning time of half a year, his widow Mechteld Lamberts remarried to a neighbour, Jacob van Dorsten, a widower with three young children. As a consequence of her mother's marriage, Hendrickje seems to have been constrained to leave home for Amsterdam.
Relationship with Rembrandt
Hendrickje obtained work as Rembrandt's housekeeper, and seems to have lived with him from approximately 1647, at first as a maid, but fast becoming much more. This led to an acrimonious fallout with Rembrandt's previous live-in lover Geertje Dircx, who sued Rembrandt for breach of promise in 1649, and demanded maintenance payments from him. Hendrickje testified in the case, confirming that a financial agreement had been reached with Geertje. In the same year Hendrickje returned to Bredevoort for the summer (possibly with Rembrandt accompanying her), and is there mentioned as a witness to a christening in the Bredevoorts church records. The Eighty Years' War was past, and peace was finally reaching even the eastern Netherlands.
In 1654, when she was pregnant with Rembrandt's daughter, Hendrickje had to appear before the church council for "living in sin" with Rembrandt, who was a widower and 20 years her senior. She admitted that she had "committed the acts of a whore with Rembrandt the painter" and was banned from receiving communion. On 30 October 1654, the couple's daughter Cornelia van Rijn was baptized in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam.
Initially, Rembrandt's unwillingness to marry Hendrickje had a pecuniary motive: by marrying her he would have forfeited the inheritance of his first wife Saskia van Uylenburgh. Even with this inheritance he had major financial problems, but without it he would have been bankrupt. But then in 1655, Titus – the son he had with Saskia – turned 14, and thereby eligible by law to make his will. Rembrandt immediately made sure that Titus installed him as his only heir and by that he outwitted Saskia. Still, he did not marry Hendrickje.
As Rembrandt's dealer
By 1656 Rembrandt was forced to declare bankruptcy. In 1658 he lost his house, and he, Hendrickje, Cornelia and Titus moved into rented property. In the same year, Hendrickje, who got along well with Titus, opened an art shop with Titus’ help where she sold Rembrandt’s paintings. In order to protect him from his money lenders Hendrickje and Titus became his employers. In this way his former maid Hendrickje Stoffels had become his boss – at least officially. Her biographer Christoph Driessen believes that Rembrandt’s noticeable productivity in the early 1660s was caused by the obvious support Hendrickje was rendering him. She was organizing his life for him and prevented his complete downfall after his bankruptcy.
In 1663, the plague hit Amsterdam and killed thousands. Hendrickje died suddenly at this time, suggesting that she was a victim of the epidemic. She was buried in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam on 24 July 1663.
In Rembrandt's art
Though there are no paintings that are explicitly identified as depictions of Hendrickje, there are a number of portraits, nudes and other images which appear to depict the same woman, who is often assumed to be Hendrickje. A portrait in the National Gallery, London is identified as her "based on the knowledge of the sitter's relationship with the artist, and the informality and affection with which she is represented." She is seated wearing a fur wrap and jewellery. There are a number of other portrait-like images that appear to depict the same woman. However, Rembrandt scholar Eric Sluijter is sceptical of attempts to identify Hendrickje in Rembrandt's work, writing that,
If one compares the large number of etchings, drawings and paintings with the purpose of recognizing Hendrickje it appears more often than not that there is little mutual resemblance between all the candidates. It is surprising how, still, in recent art historical literature numerous works are identified as Hendrickje Stoffels as a matter of course.
Sluijter suggests that the broad similarity between the faces of women in Rembrandt's paintings suggest that he tended to portray an "ideal type".
Hendrickje is also traditionally identified as the model for a number of nudes, especially the painting Bathsheba at Her Bath. She would have been 28 at the time of the painting. Sluijter has proposed otherwise, stating that Rembrandt would be very unlikely to portray his partner's own recognisable face on nudes to be sold publicly.
In later culture
She appears in several films and television dramas about the life of Rembrandt. She is a character in the film Rembrandt, where she is portrayed by Elsa Lanchester. Gisela Uhlen took the role in the 1942 German film Rembrandt. In the 1999 biopic Rembrandt she is played by Romane Bohringer. In Peter Greenaway's film Nightwatching, she is played by Emily Holmes.
In television she appears in Portrait by Rembrandt (1952), played by Jennifer Gray. Vera Verloft depicts her as the central character in the 1963 drama Hendrickje Stoffels. She also appears in the Dutch 2011 series Rembrandt en ik, played by Wendell Jaspers.
The novel I Am Rembrandt's Daughter is about Hendrickje's daughter Cornelia. Hendrickje appears in flashback scenes.
- Paul Crenshaw, Rembrandt's Bankruptcy: The Artist, His Patrons, and the Art World in Seventeenth-Century Holland, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p.41.
- Rembrandt — Chronology 1636-1650. Mystudios.com, retrieved June 6, 2011
- Driessen, Christoph (2012): Rembrandts vrouwen, p 185.
- Driessen, Christoph (2012): Rembrandts vrouwen, p 213.
- Sluijter, Eric Jan, Rembrandt and the Female Nude, Amsterdam University Press, 2006, pp. 329-331.
- Driessen, C. (2012) Rembrandts vrouwen, Bert Bakker.
- Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon - biography
- Bredevoort Boekenstad - biography
- Article on the location of Hendrickje Stoffel's parents' house in Bredevoort