Rembrandt’s Self Portraits
Throughout this class we have discussed and seen assorted styles of art. We have discussed what makes up a piece of art including line, outline, movement, implied lines, shape and mass, light, color, texture, and space. These visual elements help artists create a vision and they also help the viewer understand the piece better. By studying the self-portraits Rembrandt has produced I will prove the importance of light, line, and the accuracy of self-depiction in his pieces.
Rembrandt’s Self Portrait was a piece he painted later in his life. His style was beginning to evolve. This piece is an oil based painting on wood canvas and it is said that the artist crushed jewels to create the pigments needed for the piece. There is the use of line in this piece all along his body, separating the artist and the deep brown background. Another use of line in this piece is in the red sash tied around his waist. The use of color in this piece is important because it gives the tone of royalty. The use of gold and red and deep brown all set in a feeling of grandness. Rembrandt created many self portraits throughout his life time creating all of them with different attire, and facial expressions. Self-portraits are not always accurate to what the artist looks like but its more of what the artist is feeling on the inside that is to be created onto his outer appearance for the piece. There is suggested depth in this piece where his body is seeming to be 3 dimensional.
Since this piece was painted later in the artists life the self-portrait has wrinkles and an older appearance about him. He also seems to be upset or disapproving of something through his facial expressions. His body is positioned toward the front where the attire he is wearing can be seen more clearly. He is wearing a type of gold dress with a wrap around it. the light in the piece seems to guide the audience’s eyes to the parts of the piece that deserve the most attention. The brightest part of the piece is his face. The attention is drawn to his expression as stated above not to be the happiest. It then goes along his arm to his hand that is also just as bright as his face and then guided to the golden dress that glows in the center of the piece. “his paintings progressed from the early “smooth” manner, characterized by fine technique in the portrayal of illusionistic form, to the late “rough” treatment of richly variegated paint surfaces, which allowed for an illusionism of form suggested by the tactile quality of the paint itself” (Johnson).
This self portrait of Rembrandt was painted in 1659 with oil on canvas. The piece is apart of the Andrew W. Mellon Collection in Washington. Rembrandt produced so many self portraits in difference mediums (sketch, painting, etc.) that it gives whoever his audience enough material to analyze his moods at different points in his lifetime. This piece like the first one discussed is of an older version of him. In younger pieces he looks youthful and happy whereas as his ages grows his moods seem to become more neutral or upset. This piece shows Rembrandt in a barrette and suit. Like the first piece it is painted with a deep brown background but rather than wearing a flashy color like gold he is wearing colors that tend to blend in with the brown background. The light in this piece is shown in his face mostly to his left shoulder to his slightly hidden hands. “Rembrandt’s pose was inspired by Raphael’s famous portrait of Balthasar Castiglione…” (National Gallery of Art). This piece was painted after Rembrandt was suffering from previous financial failures which could be the reason for his facial expression. The use of line in this piece outlines his shoulders and head from the dark background.
This portrait was painted in 1629 very early in his career. Painted with oil on panel and is displayed at Alte Pinakothek, Munich. This being a piece from so early in his life he is visibly younger. His facial expression in this piece looks surprised with eyes wide open, mouth slightly parted, and eyebrows raised. He is painted in a slightly stooped position which can depict movement and surprise. He painted this at age twenty-three and so there is clearly more life in his body position and facial expression. This piece is different from the past two because its painted from his mid chest and up, not including his torso like the other pieces. Like other portraits he has the deep brown background which slightly blends in with his clothes. He wears a black coat with a white collar sticking out. The use of light in this piece is depicted in his color and his face. Much like other portraits there is a shadow over his eyes created by what looks to be his hair. Rather than his hair being tamed by a hat like in much of Rembrandts portraits it is loose and out which also really shows his youth. The use of line in this piece really outlines his head and shoulders from the background and looks almost as if he is glowing. There is also a strong line from his ear down outlining his jaw, unlike the other pieces studied due to his youth in this one his features are extenuated and so seeing his facial structure is much clearer.
For quite some time many scholars did not notice how many self portraits Rembrandt had created until the “nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Susan Fegley Osmond). Throughout his career it appears he created around forty to fifty paintings, thirty-two sketches and seven drawings. Many people thought that Rembrandts self portraits ere an experiment over the decades of depicting himself and his physical changes and artistic developments. The theories then changed to him simply being a lonely man who found joy and pride in painting himself rather than others.
Rembrandts later self-portraits more accurately depict his mood and personality at that time in his life. Those are the ones who are more greatly studied in modern days. “, 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 if he wished to penetrate the problem of man’s inner life.” (Susan Fegley Osmond).
At an early age Rembrandt left school to study art under Jacob Van Swanenburch and then studied under Pieter Lastman. In his thirties Rembrandt’s wife and three children died and as stated before he suffered financial failures. Throughout Rembrandts life he lost 6 children total. This is quite the burden for any man and could be one of the reason why throughout the decades his self-portraits lost the liveliness and became more lonesome and sad.
“Seen over his whole career, the changes in Rembrandt’s style are remarkable. His approach to composition and his rendering of space and light—like his handling of contour, form, and color, his brushwork, and (in his drawings and etchings) his treatment of line and tone—are subject to gradual (or sometimes abrupt) transformation, even within a single work. The painting known as Night Watch (1640/42) was clearly a turning point in his stylistic development” (Ernst Van de Wetering). His style changed gradually through his career going from Baroque, Dutch Golden age, and Baroque paintings. Self-portraits require accuracy of self-depiction because as seen in Rembrandts work it will show someone’s inner turmoil and outer appearance to the world. Self Portraits aren’t always completely accurate to what the person looks like in a mirror but can be more extenuated to show the traits about that person they would like the world to see. Rembrandts pieces are so praised when it comes to self-portraiture because knowing the life of sadness he lived his self portraits grew increasingly sadder to show his inner struggle. He may not have truly looked that worn and old in person but that may have been his way of showing the world his inner struggles.
Through studying Rembrandts self portrait work I have chosen three pieces to look at, two from his older age and one from his youth. The accuracy of self-depiction Rembrandt shows in his portraits help the audience to understand who he was as an individual. His self portraits were very vulnerable pieces that created a connection between his audience and himself. His use of line and light in his pieces also help to show the audience the pieces of him he would like them to see much like his face or his clothes.