In one of Rembrandt’s first landscape etchings, he looked toward his adopted city of Amsterdam from its dikes to the northeast. The artist had become a citizen of Amsterdam in 1634 and competed in its lively art market. From this view, the city is a thriving bustle of activity with windmills, spires, and ship masts indicating both commercial success and religious convictions. While the structures in this work are identifiable and faithfully recorded (though in reverse), Rembrandt manipulated their proportions and locations to suit his artistic vision. This practice of combining observed detail with artistic invention was one Rembrandt employed in many of his landscape prints.
This composition is in many ways Rembrandt’s simplest interpretation of the outdoors. A low horizon line cuts the work into two areas: sky and land. The foreground is impressively constructed to lead our eyes along the rivulets into the city, while the sky is purposefully blank. Only a few times did Rembrandt embellish the sky in his landscape, instead preferring the empty paper to represent the openness of atmosphere.