Self-portraits by Rembrandt

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Role-playing in Self-portrait as an oriental Potentate with a Kris, etching, 1634. B18

The dozens of self-portraits by Rembrandt were an important part of his oeuvre. Rembrandt created approaching one hundred self-portraits including something over forty paintings, thirty-one etchings and about seven drawings; some remain uncertain as to the identity of either the subject (mostly etchings) or the artist (mostly paintings).[1]

This was an enormously high number for any artist up to that point. The self-portraits create a visual diary of the artist over a span of forty years. They were produced throughout his career at a fairly steady pace,[2] but there is a gradual shift between etchings, more numerous until the 1630s, to paintings, which are more common thereafter. However, there is a gap in paintings between 1645 and 1652.[3] The last three etchings date to 1648,[4] c. 1651,[5] and 1658,[6] whereas he was still painting portraits in 1669, the year he died at the age of 63.[7]

At one time about ninety paintings were counted as Rembrandt self-portraits, but it is now known that he had his students copy his own self-portraits as part of their training. Modern scholarship has reduced the autograph count to over forty paintings, as well as a few drawings and thirty-one etchings, which include many of the most remarkable images of the group.[8] The etchings are mostly informal, often playful tronies, studies of extreme facial expressions or portraits in what amounts to fancy dress; in several the clothes are the fashions of a century or more earlier.[9] In others he is pulling faces at himself. His oil paintings trace the progress from an uncertain young man, through the dapper and very successful portrait-painter of the 1630s, to the troubled but massively powerful portraits of his old age. Together they give a remarkably clear picture of the man, his appearance and his psychological make-up, as revealed by his richly weathered face. While the popular interpretation is that these paintings represent a personal and introspective journey, it is also the case that they were painted to satisfy a market for self-portraits by prominent artists.[10] Both seem to have often been bought by collectors,[11] and while some of the etchings are very rare, others were printed in considerable numbers for the time. No self-portraits were listed in the famous 1656 inventory,[12] and only a handful of the paintings remained in the family after his death.[13]

Rembrandt's self-portraits were created by the artist looking at himself in a mirror,[14] and the paintings and drawings therefore reverse his actual features. In the etchings the printing process creates a reversed image, and the prints therefore show Rembrandt in the same orientation as he appeared to contemporaries.[15] References to large mirrors occur at various points from the 1650s, and the later portraits include several showing him at a longer length than before; about 80 cm was the maximum height for a sheet of mirror glass technically possible in Rembrandt's lifetime. One may have been bought about 1652 and then sold in 1656 when he went bankrupt. In 1658 he asked his son Titus to arrange delivery of another one, which broke en route to his house.[16]



With Bartsch catalogue numbers.[35]


On screen[edit]

Le miroir des paradoxes. Autoportraits, film by Alain Jaubert from Palettes series (1991).


  1. ^ White, 10, 83
  2. ^ White, 10
  3. ^ White, 184
  4. ^ B22, White, 186-187
  5. ^ B370, 22, White, 186-187
  6. ^ Not in Bartsch; White, 199-200
  7. ^ Possibly 4 in 1669, White, # 83-86
  8. ^ White, 10
  9. ^ White, 60-61, 67-72
  10. ^ Van de Wetering, p. 290
  11. ^ white, 51
  12. ^ White, 28
  13. ^ White, 51
  14. ^ White, 11-13
  15. ^ White, 83, 162
  16. ^ White, 11-13
  17. ^ White, 95-96
  18. ^ White, 100
  19. ^ White, 112-117
  20. ^ E. van de Wetering, 'Rembrandt laughing, c. 1628 – a painting resurfaces' in Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis, June 2008
  21. ^ White, 104
  22. ^ White, 122
  23. ^ White, 137
  24. ^ "Expert confirms painting is a Rembrandt". Swindon: National Trust. 2013-03-18. Retrieved 2013-03-18. 
  25. ^ White, 159
  26. ^ White, 168
  27. ^ White, 170-175
  28. ^ White, 176. The Rembrandt Research Project suggested Fabritius in 1989, but this "has not been endorsed by other experts".
  29. ^ White, 183-184
  30. ^ White, 190
  31. ^ White, 204
  32. ^ White, 200
  33. ^ White, 220
  34. ^ White, 223, 229
  35. ^ Details from Schwartz, Gary, The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt, 1994, Dover, ISBN 0486281817, unless otherwise referenced
  36. ^ White, 92
  37. ^ British Museum page
  38. ^ British Museum
  39. ^ White, 157
  40. ^ White, 170
  41. ^ White, 186-187
  42. ^ White, 164


External links[edit]