Exactly 410 years ago Rembrandt van Rijn, one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art was born in Leiden, the Netherlands.
Now people take selfies. Rembrandt painted. He created nearly one hundred self-portraits during his lifetime including approximately fifty paintings, thirty-two etchings and seven drawings. These self-portraits create an astonishingly technical accurate visual diary of the artist over a span of forty years. Here we present 6 magnificent Rembrandt’s self-portraits that show all good and bad things that happened to him in his life.
1. Self-portrait with dishevelled hair, c. 1628
Here, Rembrandt is 22 years old and this painting seems to be his first known self-portrait. Early in his career, Rembrandt used the self-portrait to experiment with facial expressions or to explore the effect of light and shade. Here he used chiaroscuro effect – look at his face, where the light glances along his right cheek, while the rest of his face is veiled in shadow.
2. Self-portrait with beret, wide-eyed
This is one of Rembrandt’s early self-portraits from his Leiden years. It is also one of a small group of etchings which he used his own image to experiment with various quirky facial expressions that might serve as models for his work and that of his pupils. Lots of these prints are only little bigger than postage stamps. In this case, Rembrandt wears a beret and looks surprised. Classic Rembrandt!
3. Self-Portrait in Oriental Costume with Poodle, 1631-33
This painting is unique in that it is the only self-portrait depicting the artist full-length. X-rays of the panel have shown that Rembrandt shortened his legs and then later hid them totally behind a dog. He also changed his hair. The “Oriental” costume was frequently used by Rembrandt in biblical scenes or figures of fantasy to create an image that evoked distant and exotic lands, for which there was growing interest in Holland.
4. Self-portrait with Saskia, c.1635
This is unique double portrait of Rembrandt and his wife. The left side of the canvas was cut, perhaps by the artist himself, to remove secondary characters and focus the observer’s attention on the main theme. The painting was created when the artist was at the height of his fame. Marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh was also the happiest time in his life, which was interrupted by the her premature death in 1642. Thanks to the relationship with this daughter of the mayor of Leeuwarden Rembrandt promoted socially and through a number of orders became a wealthy man. Saskia was his favorite model and often posed for him.
5. Large self-portrait, 1652
This is the first self-portrait Rembrandt painted since 1645. During the following period of seven years he focused instead on landscapes and intimate domestic subjects. 1645 was the year that his financial difficulties began, and he breaks with the sumptuous finery he had worn in previous self-portraits. In composition it is very different from his previous self-portraits and shows the painter in direct frontal pose, with hands on his hips, and an air of self-confidence. That’s a very strong image of a struggling man.
6. Self-portrait, 1669
The artist is 63 years old here. It may be the last self-portrait Rembrandt painted, as it dates from 1669, the year when artist died. The expressive freedom of style and fresh gaze shows that Rembrandt was certainly not exhausted at the end of his life. This self-portrait seems to be so real that when I see it I always fear it will start to talk!
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