• gerard van weyenbergh

Rembrandt reveals himself, part 2

Rembrandt in all its faces

The self-portrait was with the portrait and biblical scenes, one of the main favorite themes of Rembrandt, who painted himself often several times a year.

Throughout his life, the genius of baroque painting sought to fix the features of his face, not hesitating to caricature himself, very young, in his famous Self-portrait with haggard eyes, signed in 1630, at the age 24.

He can later be found wrapped in a golden cloak and adorned with an oriental hairstyle topped with an egret and in his old age again turbaned, but this time is concealing his baldness and the wrinkles on his forehead.

The "Self-portrait as an Apostle Paul," dated 1661, belongs to a series of self-portraits showing Rembrandt's aging.

The hundreds of self-portraits that he made over forty years allow us to follow his journey. According to George Gordon of Sotheby's, Rembrandt's face is immediately recognizable to us at every stage of his adulthood, far more than any other painter. In each self-portrait, he reveals as much of himself as he wishes, but always in his unique style of painting.

It is not a question of seeing in Rembrandt's self-portraits a "psychoanalytic" introspection of the artist by himself, as he transforms, rejuvenates, ages ... by disguising himself.

The mirror, first of all, allows the Dutch master to have a model always available and thanks to which he can study the expressions (anger, fear, etc.), which he needs in his large history paintings or his religious paintings.

Philosopher Paul Ricoeur in 1994 declared:

The painting called Rembrandt's self-portrait, it is not written on the painted face of the one who is said to have painted it is the same. And first of all, because there is an abolished intermediary who is the mirror. The painter sees himself in the mirror and paints what he sees in the mirror. So that there are, if I may say so, three faces in relation: the face which cannot be seen of the one who is painting, the face reflected in the mirror but which disappears and the painted face. It is this painted face, which is the one on which Rembrandt examines the ravages of age, failure, misery, and, consequently, he only knows himself through an abolished mirror and by creating himself as a work.

To represent an ordeal, Rembrandt uses the self-portrait to achieve a certain idea of ​​pain and to give the most accurate expression possible to the executioners and the other protagonists of the scene.

The master even appears directly in the middle of the spectators of his oldest known painting dating from 1625 The Stoning of Saint-Etienne .

By painting himself, he also seeks to develop figures of character, the tronies (head studies, from old French troigne ) such as the beggar, the old woman, and the soldier, hence the numerous self-portraits in which Rembrandt is dressed in a shiny metal gorget.

The philosopher Michel Guérin believes in Les Chemins de la Philosophie , March 3, 2020 on France Culture, that realism is misleading:

Rembrandt did not paint anyone other than himself in his self-portraits, but at the same time, the likeness to oneself is extremely flexible, is extremely variable. It takes very little, from a tiny angle, and everything changes. You don't really recognize the subject in question, because the subject is somehow devoured by something more than himself!

In his long series of self-portraits, Rembrandt is inspired, among others, by the flagship artist of the Renaissance, Raphael.

Rembrandt in his youth liked to disguise himself as a warrior or a prince in "Self-portrait with a beret with a feather", painting from 1629.

© AFP

And to affirm the prestige of his profession, Rembrandt regularly poses, his chest crossed out with one or two gold necklaces, to identify himself with other masters, Titian and Van Dyck, who had been offered these same jewels by their royal patrons.

Self-portrait, wearing a ruff and a black hat, could also serve as a "visiting card" for his potential clients.

When he moved to Amsterdam, Rembrandt, picturing himself in the famous black outfit with white lace, according to the fashion of the time, wanted to conquer the bourgeois clientele, eager to have their necks portrait painted.

And is it voluntary? By dint of painting himself, instead of other models, Rembrandt makes his face known, manages to be recognized and to sell himself.

His self-portraits, first acquired by amateurs, were also very quickly bought by wealthy collectors, as much fascinated by the paintings as by the artistic personality of their famous author.

France Culture -