Rembrandt’s Redeeming Qualities?

Here is the Rembrandt Self Portrait (detail below) I referred to in my discussion about Herman Doomer, with Jean Ingres. You can follow that discussion here. This self-portrait was painted about 20 years later than Herman Doomer. Look at the edges on the right shoulder and the beret. Compare those to those same areas in the Herman Doomer portrait. Do you see more similarities or differences. What stands out to you? Here’s a closeup of the face to aid in your comparison.


  1. Jean Ingres says

    I need more time to absorb this, but at a glance I can see some pretty nice relationships. The top right front angle of the beret has a similar angle to both top edges of the collar on his coat. His left shoulder and seam on the right shoulder also have this same 45 degree angle. The right back side and left back side of his beret also complete a triangle that leads through the front open collar connecting to the zipper line in the coat. I may be reaching, but you might even be able to connect the very outside contour of both shoulders to the highest point of his beret forming the largest triangle.

    I’d say that he had no interest in softening edges on the beret and left it flat and hard edged. For me it holds my eyes in the center of the picture and focused on the head. It doesn’t take away from the head, at least for me. I just think that he used hard edges on draperies as a device to lead the eye and he wasn’t concerned with form in these areas. I believe that he wanted people viewing his paintings to step back in order to get the desired effect. Unless you’re a student and then you would stand on top of it to figure out how it was created.

  2. Tony Lombardo says

    I see more differences. What stands out to me is a change in style and intent rather than him working out a visual solution to create an illusion of depth. This later portrait is concerned less with believable reality/atmosphere and more with a looser paint style and obvious brush strokes. The Herman Doomer portrait looks closer to a living person in an actual space even with that hard-edged cape.

  3. Cataracts? 🙂

  4. Marvin,
    Thanks so much for adding your voice to the ever-growing discourse on figurative painting. I agree with you that we are not likely to really know what Rembrandt was thinking but there are some things regarding the two portraits that we can possibly surmise. I would not discount two key points. The first being the length of time between the two portraits (I believe you indicated 20 years or so), and the fact that the earlier painting was a portrait (I suspect of a client) and the second a self-portrait intended for the artist.

    I am not an art historian but I believe Rembrandt’s paint handling became progressively looser over time. The more direct brushwork of the older painting reflects his evolution as a painter. I do not down play the observation that Rembrandt’s edge awareness, on the self-portrait, is more pronounced in the segments of form that he wants to recede. A lot has been made about the crisp edge of the artist’s cap on the self-portrait. I see a great deal of variation as the cap moves away from the viewer (on our right side). The background brushwork at the top and left of the cap look like they were made toward the end of the painting and I agree with Jean Ingres that it appears the intent was compositional as the contour does flow directly into the line of the jacket.

    The second point is pure speculation. When being responsible for a sitters likeness I suspect Rembrandt, like anyone else, had to balance what he wanted to do with the painting along side his desire to please the client. Most clients want a likeness over brilliant paint handling (hopefully they get both). When he painted himself the painting reflects the sheer genius of Rembrandt “doing his thing”. What a fabulous painting!

    Finally, I also agree with an earlier comment about being able to view the postings with an iPad. The ability to enlarge the image at a touch adds to the enjoyment of reading the posts. Thanks Marvin, I look forward to your insights!

  5. Your post prompted me to compare one of my self-portraits with a small commission. They look like they were done by different painters. Different intent, to me is evident.

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