1606 – 1669
Rembrandt is a personal hero of mine. Not only is he dramatic and technically brilliant, but he depicts reality with precision and an uncompromising truth to the portrait. Throughout my childhood and adolecent years, I had studied his paintings and explored his own development as he grew not only as an artist, but also into an older man. You can see his self-portraits as he changes from young male to slowly progress through the next 90 + self-portraits into an old man with grey hair.
As you can see from the beginning, Rembrandt enjoyed playing with shadows. From his earlier works, and here in his self-portrait aged 23, he barely allows the light to touch him. His face is almost a silhouette and his figure is 90% in darkness. Yet still, we are able to see so much from his form and drama that we don’t initially realise that a lot of the painting is missing to our eye.
So who is Rembrandt?
Rembrandt was born in Leiden – Holland in 1606. Throughout his career, he became a master of 3 mediums – drawing, painting and print making through etching. As a pioneer within the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt went on to have great success as well as incredible defeat including bankruptcy and outliving all of 5 of his children and his wife.
Over his lifetime, he produced well over 600 paintings, nearly 400 etchings and 2,000 drawings and adopted the similar painting style to Caravaggio with the dramatic effects of chiaroscuro. (If you want to learn more about this style, click here ). One element that I have always found impressive about Rembrandt is his use of thick paint application. The closer you can get to a painting, the more you can see his impasto effect and the likeness it creates afterwards to natural textures.
Having never left Holland, his success continued to grow across Europe and despite earning a healthy living, his love for collecting and buying Art grew so big that he could no longer afford his house and was forced to sell everything. Even after moving to a poorer district and losing all of his previous collections, he still could not resist bidding on his addiction to more stunning paintings.
One of the most interesting facts about this guy, is that many doctors believe he suffered from stereo blindness – the inability to fully see in 3D. Some think it gave an advantageous skill to the Artist as it allowed him to translate what he saw from reality into painting much more easily. Stereo blindness allows the artist to flatten the scene from the eye and paint exactly what they can see onto a 2D medium. Most people can see in 3D which means they have difficulty creating this on the canvas, whereas a person with this condition already sees in 2D, allowing them to read the image much simpler than a normal functioning eye. If you are a bit of a geek like me and you are interested in reading more about this fascinating phenonium, check out the New York Times Article
With over 90 self-portraits, including sometimes acting as a spectator in his own scenes, it is no wonder Rembrandt is the master of himself. Lol, such a joker. Try and find him before you scroll down too far and see where he is hiding. #wheresrembrandt?
The Nights Watch
He utilised the resources he had around him to be able to practise as an Artist and improve his ability as a painter. All he needed was a canvas, paints and a mirror. He was known as the painter of light and shade. A true realist to nature and form and a pioneer in his trademark lighting triangle in the cheeks shadow.
So I hope you learnt a little more about the inventor of #selfies and enjoyed learning about his history. As far the self-portrait goes, this originator is one of the best.