No artist has left a loftier or more penetrating personal testament than Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 portraits of himself that date from the outset of his career in the 1620s to the year of his death in 1669, he created an autobiography in art that is the equal of the finest ever produced in literature even of the intimately analytical Confessions of St. Augustine. 1 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (15 July 1606– 4 October 1669) was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history and the most important in Dutch history.
His contributions to art came in a period that historians call the Dutch Golden Age. Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, his later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Yet his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters. Rembrandt’s greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible.
His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. In his paintings and prints he exhibited knowledge of classical iconography, which he molded to fit the requirements of his own experience; thus, the depiction of a biblical scene was informed by Rembrandt’s knowledge of the specific text, his assimilation of classical composition, and his observations of Amsterdam’s Jewish population.
Because of his empathy for the human condition, he has been called “one of the great prophets of civilization. It wasn’t until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when scholars studied Rembrandt’s legacy as a whole, that it was discovered how very many times the artist had portrayed himself. The number is still a matter of contention, but it seems he depicted himself in approximately forty to fifty extant paintings, about thirty-two etchings, and seven drawings. It is an output unique in history; most artists produce only a handful of self-portraits, if that. And why Rembrandt did this is one of the great mysteries of art history.
2. Most scholars took several tens of years to interpret Rembrandt’s remarkable series of self-portraits as a sort of visual diary, a forty-year exercise in self-examination. In a 1961 book, art historian Manuel Gasser wrote, “Over the years, Rembrandt’s self-portraits increasingly became a means for gaining self-knowledge, and in the end took the form of an interior dialogue: a lonely old man communicating with himself while he painted. ”3 Many of these traditional studies focused particularly on Rembrandt’s late self-portraits, as they reveal this rigorous self-reflection most profoundly.
In an influential 1948 monograph on the artist, Jacob Rosenberg wrote of the ceaseless and unsparing observation which (Rembrandt’s self-portraits) reflect, showing a gradual change from outward description and characterization to the most penetrating self-analysis and self-contemplation. Rembrandt seems to have felt that he had to know himself very well; if he wished to penetrate the problem of man’s inner life. More recent scholarship has shed additional light on Rembrandt’s early self-portrayals.
Quite a few, it is argued; in where tonies (head and shoulder) studies in which the model plays a role or expresses a particular emotion. In the seventeenth century there was an avid market for such studies, which were considered a separate genre (although for an artist they also served as a storehouse of facial types and expressions for figures in history paintings). Thus, for example, we have four tiny etchings from 1630 that show Rembrandt in turn, caught in fearful surprise, glowering with anger, smiling gamefully, and appearing to snarl; each expressed in lines that themselves embody the distinct emotions.
Rembrandt may have used his own face because the model was cheap, but perhaps he was killing two birds with one stone. The art buying public which now included people from many walks of life, not only aristocratic or clerical patrons, as in the past went for etchings of famous people, including artists. By using himself as the model for these and other studies, Rembrandt was making himself into a recognizable celebrity at the same time that, he gave the public strikingly original and expressive tonies.
The wide dissemination of these and other prints was important in establishing Rembrandt’s reputation as an artist. 4 “Self-portrait, by Rembrandt van Rijn” Self-portrait (Metropolitan Museum of Art 14. 40. 618) is a complex outburst of emotions painting by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1660. The dimensions are 31 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. (80. 3 x 67. 3 cm) and the medium is oil on canvas. The 1660 Self-portrait is his master piece painting in my opinion. He incorporated all the things that made him a great painter (His use of colors, Light, Facial expressions, Clothes and Methods of painting).
Rembrandt painted this portrait in 1660 with oil on canvas at age 54, nine years before his death. That we encounter the artist unexpectedly and alone suggests the privacy appropriate for candid conversation. The setting describes the quiet enclosure of an interior. The artist’s shadow shows little space between himself and the rear wall, suggesting there is only room enough for Rembrandt and his easel, as if to assure us that no one else is around. A narrow field of light just barely covers the scene, and shrinks the space within the frame to add visual intimacy.
All of these elements work to present the image as a visual divulgence. 5 Rembrandt orchestrates our attention with a strongly focused light source entering the frame from somewhere high above on the left, and carefully aimed to collide directly with his fore head (letting us know his high level of intellect) and his black hat. Commentators have discovered through x-ray examination of his self-portraits that Rembrandt sometimes painted himself in such white caps only to replace them later with darker ones (like in this case), such as colored turbans.
As the light leaves the hat, it reflects next most brightly on the highest spots of Rembrandt’s forehead, the only other place in the frame where loss of detail occurs in the light’s intensity. This detail visually ties Rembrandt’s flesh and blood humanity to the inspiration of the painting act, as if to highlight the role of human effort, intelligence and imagination in the process. All else in the frame falls quickly away in the sharply diminishing light characteristic of his chiaroscuro style. As the light continues downward it glances the outer lid of Rembrandt’s right eye, then highlights the protruding ridges of the sagging, wrinkled bags and lines beneath it, reflects off the bulbous tip of his nose, and illuminates the fatty folds of skin along the side of his neck. These details suggest Rembrandt’s awareness of passing time, and of the physical signs of his mortality. He could have painted these details under a softer light without sacrificing accuracy; the frankness of his careful highlighting communicates an impressive honesty, and a touching humility in his self-perception.
In other words he is being realistic. Rembrandt’s face echoes the sense of honesty, weak and humility. The relaxed muscles of his mouth lack the tension of a conscious pose, and allow his upper lip to part slightly from the lower one. The illuminated side of his face suggests openness in the way he has raised his eyebrow to broaden the field of his eye socket; though doing so increases his vulnerability to us, he positions this eye closest to our view, as if to offer us a window into his soul.
Even at such close range, the eye is calm and unflinching, and shows clarity fine enough to read the crescent shadow cast by the eyelid’s edge onto its iris. The steadiness of the gaze suggests a fearlessness of being seen, and a calm strength; the sharp detailing suggests a corresponding clarity in the painter’s awareness and vision; the brightness in his eye hints of humor. 7 Above the same eye, his forehead is wrinkled with the effort of widening his eye, and suggests the kind of expression we might make in a mood of philosophical acceptance of things as they are, captured in the expression.
We know that this portrait was painted not long after a financial ruin (as you said when we went to the Met Museum) that forced the sale of his home and belongings, among other crises in his life; and Rembrandt appears “emaciated” here than in other self-portraits painted in the decades before and after. Despite these and other noted travails, there is no hint of the shrug of the shoulders or tilt of the head which might suggest his acceptance is based on resignation, for his head is balanced and steady, and his chin is leveled and relaxed, neither raised in arrogance nor bowed abjectly.
The opposite side of his face is more shaded and further from our view, though not hidden. It reveals an observant eye that seems to watch, and see everything; this eye is less vulnerable, its brow is unraised, and is narrowed as if focusing on us. The circle beneath it is painted a darker, bruised color. There is matter of fact in its lack of expressiveness, and resoluteness in its declination to reveal more. The angle of his head shifts the bulk of his nose toward the dark side of his face, transferring to it some of the crudeness of his physicality, where perhaps it lives.
This darker aspect is kept in reserve, and seems like the face Rembrandt would wear to dealings with his creditors, or with the clients whose demands for alterations in his paintings he famously refused. 8 Though he does not fully describe its character, his very admission of a second face lends credibility to the visible one, and adds to the complexity and interest of the portrait. The portrait is satisfying in its design elements as well. As still and quiet as the image is.
The light source Rembrandt uses to direct our attention also creates a strong diagonal energy down and right across the painting, and along the surfaces it illuminates: the implied straight lines of light pass from the artist’s Hat and head, along the near edge of his coat. The light’s diagonal force is energized by its intersection with the sharply defined vertical edge of the easel at the right, borrowing from the easel its visible linearity. The shift from dark to light traveling left to right across the figure and background harmonize with the diagonal light’s horizontal movement.
The portrait is also unified by its consistent use of color in gaslight yellows, umbers and deep browns, keeping within related shades and tones of the same palette. These visual elements of energy give the portrait a sense of unifying composition and order, and liven the scene’s physical stillness. 9 Realize this paper about Rembrandt’s portrait leaves me impressed by the delicacy and sensitivity of his portrait, his outrages and unprecedented methods of painting (Etching, Printmaking, Intaglio and High Spatial Resolution Cluster-TOF-SIMS Imaging) in the good sense of the words.
I have fallen in love with his art works; his style looks similar to other painters of his period but, when you focus yourself and you start to notice those small details (extra pieces of perfection/Heaven). Then, you start to recognize and secern (put apart) great painters like Rembrandt. I enjoy and I’m graceful to have met the person of Rembrandt in his works.