Rembrandt van Rijn portrayed his face on canvas like no other international artist before him. Giggles to grimaces and everything in between, he did it all to perfection.
With over eighty known self-portraits, Rembrandt was an undisputed master of this genre. A shutterbug who keeps posting their photos on Instagram may be surprised to know that the Dutch artist predates selfies by at least some centuries. After all, a self-portrait refers to an artist’s painting which he or she creates. There is no “sitter” in the self-portrait creation process, but the artist paints themselves on canvas.
Taco Dibbits, the director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, compares flipping through Rembrandt’s catalog to scrolling through somebody’s social media account.
The oeuvre of Rembrandt self-portraits is being scattered around the globe. A book titled “Rembrandt: The Self-Portraits” contains the collection of these works by the Dutchman. An eagle-eyed audience can spot Rembrandt’s cameos in many of his bigger paintings, but “Rembrandt: The Self-Portraits” focuses instead on the artist’s dedicated self-portraiture, in which he is depicted alone.
The book’s authors Marieke de Winkel and Volker Manuth suggest Rembrandt was more advanced than his period in acutely knowing the advertising power of self-portraits, particularly considering that he was turning into a popular artist in Holland and outside. By the last decades of Rembrandt’s life, his workshop made and sold copies of his popular self-portrait.
So what can all we learn from the master’s inclination towards depicting himself on canvas? Keep it playful and simple, for one thing. In mostly small and informal formats, he sketched himself in an array of expressions through grimaces, sorrow, grace, and laughter. Next thing, know your angles. Rembrandt experimented with poses, but he usually depicted himself with the head titled slightly towards the right. Do not be afraid to depict yourself dressed in smart, formal clothes.
You can explore Rembrandt’s portraits by taking a Rijksmuseum guided tour. The museum in Amsterdam city is home to many of the Dutch artist’s self-portraits, including the famous one where he is depicted as Paul the Apostle.
Another interesting fact about these Rembrandt’s works is that these are named with the particular expression, dress or action shown in the portrait. For instance, take the name, “Self Portrait in a Cap: Laughing”. What do you make of the name? Perhaps, a man who was much in love with himself, just like today’s selfie-loving generation.