Self Portrait, 1660
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.618)
Oil on canvas
31 5/8 x 26 1/2 in. (80.3 x 67.3 cm)
With his curly grey hair, large black cap and the white shirt edge at his neck peeking out from under a red waistcoat, the 54 year old Rembrandt appears like a kindly, older man. His humble appearance in everyday clothes forms a stark contrast with his almost regal bearing and outfit in the self-portrait of 1658 now hanging in The Frick Collection in New York. Although tempting to read the difference as reflecting Rembrandt’s changing emotional and financial states during this difficult personal period following his bankruptcy and removal from his large house on the St. Antoniebreestraat, there are no written accounts to confirm or deny this. More likely, Rembrandt was experimenting with the depiction of various facial expressions, costumes, and bodily postures, using himself as a readily available model. One intriguing aspect of many of Rembrandt’s later self-portraits is that the mood they convey seems to vary slightly when the viewer moves from one side to the other. This happens as a result of Rembrandt’s heavy use of impasto, or thickly layered paint, which tends to catch light at different angles according to the position from which the painting is viewed.
Prior to Rembrandt’s time, self-portraits were much less common. The ability of artists to paint self-portraits had only recently become easier with the increasing availability of affordable mirrors. Rembrandt no doubt was fascinated with this technology, which allowed him to solve certain artistic problems. In addition, there was an increasing demand for portraits of artists by the growing community of art buyers. In fact, none of Rembrandt’s self-portraits appear in the inventory of his goods made in the 1650s, indicating they had all been sold. Rembrandt’s example spurred others to paint self-portraits, which ultimately served as advertisements for the artists, contributing to their fame and fortune.