Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art. From the Guardian essay by Robert Hughes (Link below) : ".. though not always a realist, he is the first god of realism after Caravaggio. And why so many people love him, since he was so seldom rivalled as a topographer of the human clay. 

Yet for all that has been written about Rembrandt, we have remarkably little certainty as to what he thought about the domain of his genius, the art of painting. He did not theorise. Or if he did, his ideas about art itself have been lost - except for six words, whose meaning is still disputed by art historians. 

He aimed in his work, he wrote to one of his patrons, the Stadtholder, who employed his friend Constantijn Huygens, to produce die meeste ende die natureelste beweechlickheyt - the greatest and most natural movement."

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait leaning on a stone sill, an etching
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 
AD 1639

Rembrandt, the rival of Raphael and Titian

Rembrandt here portrays himself in Renaissance attire, taking inspiration from two sixteenth-century works, Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and Titian's so-called Portrait of Ariosto, now in the National Gallery, London. In Rembrandt's day both these paintings were owned by an Amsterdam collector, Alfonso Lopez, and in 1639, the same year as this etching, Rembrandt made a sketch after the painting by Raphael (the sketch is now in the Albertina, Vienna).

By following the example of these earlier artists, Rembrandt probably wanted to be seen in the same context, and were it not for the historical anachronism, it would be tempting to describe the resulting self-portrait as 'Romantic'. Rembrandt depicts himself fictionally, in the nostalgic garb of his Renaissance heroes - not just those from Italy, but with echoes of northern European self-portraits by artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Lucas van Leyden. He took this approach several times in the 1630s, and part of his intention was presumably to produce an image that was a worthy emulation and even improvement on its artistic ancestors, especially those in Lopez's collection that were widely known in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt's style is here rather detailed, and he brilliantly evokes the textures of his velvet cap and his hair, which to judge from other self-portraits of the period he has here lengthened - it was normally trimmed at the level of his ear.

E. Hinterding, G. Luijten and M. Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the printmaker (London, The British Museum Press in association with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2000)

List of paintings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Rembrandt
List of etchings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_etchings_by_Rembrandt
The Getty bio: http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=473 
Tribute by Robert Hughes: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2006/feb/11/art

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