Self Portrait, 1629

Self Portrait, 1629

Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Clowes Fund Collection
Oil on panel
17 1/2 x 13 1/2 in.

The Clowes self-portrait in Indianapolis is one of the earliest of the over 75 known self-portraits by Rembrandt, and is probably his first attempt to capture the features of the human face accurately in a life-sized work. Painted when he was only 23, it portrays Rembrandt wearing a beret, shining steel gorget, wrinkled silk scarf, and several days’ worth of stubble from his beard, visible despite the strong shadow cast across the right side of his face. The tilt of the head and open mouth give the impression that the painter has been caught off-guard, perhaps mid-sentence, lending the picture a charming sense of spontaneity.

This picture was at one time considered to be a copy of a similar painting in Japan. However, x-radiographs found that there are adjustments to the angle of the head and shoulders and to the position of his beret, indicating the artist developed his composition as he went along and was not copying an earlier work. Unlike the other five known versions of the composition, it is signed in wet paint, an indication of authenticity. He used the monogram RHL, which was typical for his paintings from Leiden. The number of copies of this self-portrait is unusual, prompting speculation that it was used in the studio as a model for his students, most likely as a lesson in depicting complex lighting schemes.