Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69)
Self-portrait in a flat cap
Oil on panel
70.5 x 57.8 cm
Acquired by George IV when Prince Regent in 1814 as part of the Collection of Sir Francis Baring
It is not perhaps surprising that Rembrandt, the greatest artist of seventeenth-century Holland, should have been so self-indulgent in depicting his own likeness. Other artists in subsequent centuries - Sir Joshua Reynolds, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso - have painted several self-portraits, but arguably they did not transform the form into such a powerful means of artistic self-expression. Rembrandt literally paints his autobiography by means of some forty pictures, as well as thirty-one prints and numerous drawings.
The self-portrait in the Royal Collection is dated 1642, when the artist was aged 36, and was acquired by George IV with Sir Francis Barings collection. It is comparable in many respects with the self-portrait of 1640 in the National Gallery, London, although without the ledge along the lower edge of the composition. Technical investigation of the present panel has revealed that it was used on at least two earlier occasions by the artist for self-portraits: once as early as the beginning of the 1630s and again later towards the end of the same decade. This, together with the fact that the surface as it now is was once overpainted, has clouded judgements about the paintings status. The execution of the flesh tones and the panache with which the cap has been painted do, however, provide ample evidence of the autograph quality of the picture. As so often in his self-portraits, Rembrandt has put on fancy dress - at least in part. The chains and the earring are no doubt part of this playful self-presentation and it is also significant that the front of the cap was once decorated with a looped chain as in the National Gallery self-portrait. Where for the image of 1640 Rembrandt adopts a persona taken from Italian Renaissance sources - Raphael or Titian - here he depicts himself in a direct way as a confident, successful man of the world. He exudes gravitas but is instantly likeable: his troubles have yet to overwhelm him.
Signed and dated on the right by the shoulder: Rembrandt f. 1642
Catalogue entry adapted from Enchanting the Eye: Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, London, 2004