Born in Leiden, Netherlands in 1606, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn attended elementary school from 1612 to 1616 and then attended the Latin School in Leiden, where he partook in biblical studies and lessons on the classics. It is unclear whether Rembrandt completed his studies at the Latin School, but one account claims that he was removed from school early and sent to be trained as a painter at his own request.
From 1620 to either 1624 or 1625, Rembrandt trained as an artist under two masters. His first was painter Jacob van Swanenburgh (1571–1638), with whom he studied for about three years. Under van Swanenburgh, Rembrandt would have learned basic artistic skills. Van Swanenburgh specialized in scenes of hell and the underworld, and his ability to paint fire and the way its light reflects on surrounding objects was likely an influence on Rembrandt’s later work. Rembrandt's second teacher was Amsterdam’s Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), who was a well-known history painter and likely helped Rembrandt master the genre, which included placing figures from biblical, historical and allegorical scenes in complex settings.
In 1625, Rembrandt settled back in Leiden, now a master in his own right, and over the next six years he laid the foundations for his life's work. It was during this time that Lastman's influence was most noticeable, as in several instances Rembrandt deconstructed his former master's compositions and reassembled them into his own, a practice carried on by Rembrandt's own pupils later on. Rembrandt’s paintings created at this time were generally small but rich in detail; religious and allegorical themes were prominent. Rembrandt also worked on his first etchings (1626) in Leiden, and his eventual international fame would rely on the widespread dissemination of these works. Diverging from his contemporaries, Rembrandt endowed his etchings with a painterly quality achieved through suggestive handling of light and dark.
Starting in 1628, Rembrandt took on students, and over the years his fame attracted many young artists seeking to learn at his side. Only an estimate of the number of his pupils can be made, since official registers of trainees have been lost, but it is believed that over the course of his career he had fifty or so students.