A Farm on the Amsteldijk(?) is one of twenty-seven landscape drawings attributed to Rembrandt that were acquired in 1723 by William Cavendish, Second Duke of Devonshire, and preserved at Chatsworth House until the 1980s. The Second Duke purchased them from the estate of Nicolaes Anthoni Flinck (1646–1723), a director of the East India Company and son of Rembrandt’s pupil Govert Flinck. The drawings probably remained together from 1658, when the insolvent master’s papiere kunst was sold at auction, until twelve were dispersed at auction in 1984 and 1987.
A supreme example of Rembrandt’s use of ink and wash to describe detail as well as evoke the endless meadows of the Dutch countryside, the movement of air and water, and the fleeting glimmer of sunlight on weathered thatch and wood, the Harvard drawing can be dated on the basis of its composition and technique to the early 1650s. It depicts a farmhouse of the langhuis-stolp (literally, “longhouse bell”) type that was common in the region around Amsterdam. Rising prominently at the center of the sheet is the tall hump of the stolp, where the animals’ stalls and hay storage would be located. The lower langhuis, which extends from the stolp and would contain the living quarters, nestles behind the trees to the left. Farther left is a fence with a gate that secures the meadow from which Rembrandt sketched the site. Immediately to the right of the gate is a small shed with a peaked plank roof, which is more fully visible in a drawing of the same farmstead attributed to Rembrandt’s pupil Pieter de With (Fig. 1). Next to it are a dovecote on stilts and the low plank wall of a boathouse. The tall tower to the right of the stolp would probably serve as a landing stage for pigeons. Beneath it, behind a pile of hay or manure, we see a wagon wheel supported on an axle driven into the soil.
The wagon wheel appears at the center of a drawing in the Art Institute of Chicago, which shows the back of the farmhouse from the meadow where the cows graze in the Harvard work (Fig. 2). At the left of the Chicago sheet, we see the boathouse head-on and the dovecote behind it. The Chicago landscape and a drawing in the Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt Collection, Paris (the latter sketched from the side of the house opposite the one depicted in the Harvard view) enable us to identify the pole and rigging behind the wagon wheel as one of two supports used for drying fishing nets. We also learn from the Chicago and Paris studies of a large hayrick rising on the other side of the house. A drawing by De With that shows much the same view as Rembrandt’s Paris work attests that the master and his pupils occasionally drew the same motifs, perhaps at the same time.
The study by De With reproduced in Figure 1 and a sketch by Rembrandt in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, show the same side of the house as the Harvard view, but from a greater distance. They include more of the wooden fence that abuts the gate at the far left of the Harvard sheet and separates the meadow from the road. A building immediately adjacent to the farmhouse has a sign toward the road, documented only in De With’s study, indicating it to be an inn. Specialists in Amsterdam topography speculate that the farm would have been located on a dyke along the river Amstel, between the country house Kostverloren and the village of Ouderkerk. That the river is not clearly indicated in the recently discovered drawing by De With (see Fig. 1) casts some doubt on the identification of the site as the Amsteldijk.