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In the early years of his career Rembrandt etched numerous representations of his own face. Christopher White resists calling these self-portraits, in the sense that works of later years were portrayals of the artist as a person, rather classifying these etchings as studies of physiognomy, expression and emotion. In this work, however, Rembrandt does not assume a pose, instead meeting our gaze; his slightly furrowed brow and the creases of his eyelids adding to the penetrating portrait of the artist as a thoughtful and pensive young man.
The evolution of the image is revealed within it, as Rembrandt's hair is clearly visible beneath the cap. It is likely he originally intended a bare-headed self-portrait, subsequently deciding to add the cap over the top of his hair.
Reproductions of this work give a false sense of its scale and grandeur as in reality it is not quite the size of a playing card. Such magnification of the work does nonetheless allow you to consider the way Rembrandt used line to record himself. The fine mesh of curved lines which describe the contours of the shaded side of his face contrast with the almost bare paper of the side bathed in light, where the briefest dots and lines merely indicate stubble around the edge of his jaw. His acute skills of observation are also clear recording the way light catches the right of his moustache, the area just outside the shadow cast by his nose. Writing in 1699, Roger de Piles noted, 'One sees in the portraits which he has etched, how every stroke of the needle, like every stroke of the brush in painting, gives to the parts of the face a character of life and truth which makes one admire his genius.'
(Masters of the Bitten Line, 2006)
- Rembrandt in a Heavy Fur Cap
- Production date
- 63 x 57 mm
- Initialled 1631 (u.l.) Verso; pencil, Humi (c) C.28050. xo. B16. D.21. S.447 H.56. only state. 45. NII (l.l.)
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1961
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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