Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1659, oil on canvas, 33 ¼” x 26”, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image Courtesy of

Rembrandt van Rijn: The Magnet in the Room

When you walk into any gallery of 17th-century paintings and one by Rembrandt is in the room, you will be drawn to the Rembrandt.  His paintings glow.  In a word, they are “rich,” like a dessert can be rich.  They have texture, warmth, and depth.  Rembrandt achieved this effect by painting layers of pigment and varnish, built up over time, adding color glazes and texture only at the end so that light actually can pass through the completed painting, giving it that characteristic warm glow.

This is one of about 75 self-portraits that Rembrandt painted in his lifetime.  This somewhat self-possessed self-portrait is a type of which he painted often in his later years, perhaps ironically, after he declared bankruptcy and had to sell his home to pay his debts.  The posture is copied from Raphael’s Portrait of Baldessare Castiglione, which Rembrandt could have seen when it was at an auction in Amsterdam in 1639.  Rembrandt loved to wear costumes and he loved to play roles in his self-portraits.