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A Discussion of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669, National Gallery

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Introduction

A Discussion of Rembrandt's Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669, National Gallery The art repertoire of Rembrandt van Rijn, the great seventeenth-century Dutch painter, contains nearly ninety self-portraits, creating a forty-year autobiography of self-exploration. His innate propensity to study his own image was reinforced by the social and cultural atmosphere of his time, and his efforts to distinguish himself from his contemporaries. Upon looking into the face of a Rembrandt self-portrait, one can perceive his extraordinary aspirations, his attainment of power and status, and the misery that he found in his last years. In examining Rembrandt's Self-Portrait at the Age of 63, 1669, and comparing it to an early work done at age thirty-four, his purpose in creating these paintings can be ascertained, as can the effect of his position in life when they were done. During the seventeenth century, there was a rise in individualism or the concept of the human being as autonomous and self-governing. Under this idea, "man (as opposed to God) makes and shapes the world in which he is primary" (Chapman, 4). The value of the individual and his own uniqueness is derived from Renaissance Italy and the Reformation, which created a fundamental shift toward a man-centered view. ...read more.

Middle

The eyes, often seen as the windows to the soul, watch from a realm of shadow. They reveal nothing, as if to say that the individual is and will remain a mystery. One of the most renowned of Rembrandt's self-portraits is Self -Portrait at the Age of 34, 1640, National Gallery. At this point in his life, he had moved from Leiden to the large, prosperous city of Amsterdam where he lived and prospered under the roof of Hendrick van Ulenborch and eventually married his agent's cousin, Saskia. While he often portrayed himself in an array of imaginary roles and guises, his formal self-portraits "concern the ideal of the virtuoso artist" (Chapman, 55). They have been read as both evidence of his social climbing, as well as his concern with his own artistic aspirations. Specifically in Self-Portrait at the Age of 34, Rembrandt distinguishes himself from the fashionable portrait modes by making deliberate reference to Raphael's Baldassare Castiglione, 1514-1515, Musee du Louvre, and Titian's Portrait of a Man, National Gallery. In alluding to Titan's painting, thought to be of the poet Ludivico Aristoto, Rembrandt is placing painters at the level of poets, who were seen as the true liberal artists, and attempting to reclaim the lost ideal of the painter. ...read more.

Conclusion

X-rays of his later work reveals he originally was holding a palette and brushes, which he painted out to be replaced by clasped hands, as in the earlier painting. Rembrandt again romanticizes his image, as his clothing is not modern, but old-fashioned. But now his attire seems to resemble house clothes with colors more subdued, and his image is simpler and less pretentious. Rembrandt was a highly independent artist and used his self-portraits to set himself apart from his contemporaries. They prove his individuality as an artist and as a person, not being afraid to hide the imperfections of the human form. This in itself shows the nature of society and culture at the time with the Post-Renaissance stance on art still being to focus on realism not aesthetics. In some he is melancholy, in others romanticized, and eventually he likens himself to Titian and Raphael, an attempt to represent the ideal artist. And the painting of 1669 shows a man who died with dignity and grace. So why did Rembrandt depict himself so many times? Perhaps, knowing all too well that a single portrait can convey only certain aspects of a person at a particular point in his life, he wanted, as an artist, to take at least one subject through a lifetime, and the one he could explore most intimately was himself. ...read more.

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