After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild. At fifteen he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years. After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders(fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects, enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details.
Dou became one of the highest paid artists in the Netherlands and the founder of the Leiden painters' guild. Royal patrons from all over Europe sought him out. King Charles II of England even offered him the post of court painter, which he refused. Despite his international reputation, Dou scarcely left his native Leiden.