Monday, May 21, 2007
Rembrandt van Rijn
(1606 - 1669)
Self portrait (1658)
oil on canvas
52 5/8 in. x 4 1/16 in. (133.67 cm x 10.32 cm)
Frick Collection, New York
By Daniel Afrahim
Rembrandt one of the greatest Dutch painters and he recorded his own likeness in at least 75 paintings, drawings, and prints, which date from his earliest years in Leyden to the last year of his life in Amsterdam (1625-1669). The dozens of painted examples clearly had many purposes, ranging from theatrical displays of emotional expression in the youthful works, to the most candid self scrutiny in some of the late canvases. A few self portraits were intended for great patrons, others no doubt for family members, and some must have been painted with no other viewer in mind, like pages in a diary.
In Rembrandt's earlier years as an artist he first stressed action, drama, and high contrast between dark and light. Rembrandt had no restrictions with his space, he was not afraid to let the colors seam to seep out of the frame, not holding anything in place. In his live time he would changed the way many artist painted. For example, while many other Dutch painters emphasized things such as realistic appearances of their models, he tried to portray them more in a poetic manner than realistically. By using extreme light-to-dark values he created interesting effects not used by many other painters.
Rembrandt was a petty brilliant painter. This varies noticeably from the warm, subdued light and broad brushwork that differentiate the Ruts Portrait from the other Rembrandt, Self-Portrait. His later portraits are more subtle and sharp, as we see with the self-portrait. The striking contrasts in lighting and the detailed depiction of the mixed textures are characteristic of Rembrandt’s earlier works. Two years prior to the portrait, Rembrandt had to declare bankruptcy. This could also be Rembrandt attempting to disillusion the public opinion, forming it to oppose his actual situation. He stole from his rich wife’s inheritance to support his expensive taste for art and other material objects. Behind the artist, there lies a subdued and dark background, so that warm gold and vermilion colors of the artist’s garments hold the illuminating value within the painting.
This kingly portrait of a sober assessment of his appearance at the age of fifty-four strikes the viewer with its glazed shine and its thick impasto pigments. The viewer senses a feeling of uneasy confrontation from this seated man and the shadowed glare that he casts off. However the size and monumentality combined with painting technique make this piece, beyond doubt the most impressive of Rembrandt's self portraits. The paint surface is extremely complex in which the paint was applied in several successive layers. Rembrandt recorded light and textures with the objectivity of a still-life painter, an approach that makes the expression of his eyes and mouth all the more compelling. While Rembrandt’s Self Portrait did not depict the true to life state of the artist at the time, it definitely did depict the artist’s talent embodied into the grandeur of Rembrandt in the portrait. His kingly view of himself reflected histories view of him as an artist. His face is frozen with an ill-mannered expression.
In an article published on September 16, 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine, Margaret S. Livingstone, professor of neurobiology of Harvard Medical School, suggests that Rembrandt, whose eyes failed to align correctly, suffered from stereo blindness. She made this conclusion after studying 36 of Rembrandt's self-portraits. Because he could not form a normal binocular vision, his brain automatically switched to one eye for many visual tasks. This disability could have helped him to flatten images he saw, and then put it onto the two-dimensional canvas. In Livingstone's words, this could have been a gift to a great painter like him, "Art teachers often instruct students to close one eye in order to flatten what they see. Therefore, stereo blindness might not be a handicap — and might even be an asset — for some artists." However, among Rembrandt's greatest talents was an ability to create the illusion of full volume, the perception of which requires healthy stereopticon vision.
An envelope of darkness
and his beret fades into walls.
There is a chill in the air
that stiffly breathes around him —
a coat, an apron, layering tops.
Warmth of the light is gentle,
Quiet lingers about his face.
The paintbrush he holds —
— Olivia Taibi
Posted by Daniel Afrahim at 11:54 PM