FAH 002: Art, Politics, and Culture
February 22, 2005
Formal Analysis of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Aged 23
Self-Portrait, Aged 23 was painted by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) in 1629. The oil on wood work is on display in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was purchased in 1896 from Lt. Col. Sawyer through Bernard Berenson and has dimensions of 89.7 x 73.5 centimeters.
As the title implies, Rembrandt as a young man is the only figure in the portrait. He is set slightly off-center to the viewer’s left and his body is angled so as to present his right shoulder to the viewer. His face is not in three-quarter view but rather is turned almost directly toward the viewer, though still not straight on. His small, beady eyes look out towards the spectator and his mouth is slightly open as if he has been interrupted in mid-speech. He looks as if he is in casual conversation with the spectator or maybe just turning to face in our direction as if someone had called his name. Either way, it is an expression of interest or concern. His face structure is very soft and thin, but at first glance appears pear shaped due to the lighting. He appears to be a very genuine person, yet has a sense of naiveté about him, like he is newly out in the world after a wealthy, sheltered upbringing.
In contrast to Albrecht Durer, who always included his hand in self-portraits, Rembrandt rarely portrays himself as an artist and this work is not an exception. His elaborate costume, complete with feather-in-cap, makes him seem important, perhaps even noble. His hair sticks out from under the cap, fluffy-like, in what might today be considered an afro, rounding out his face. There are few spatial elements in the portrait; in fact, the subject almost blends into the background in places. This is partially due to the color palette of the work, which consists mostly of shades of olive-green. As is typical of many of Rembrandt’s self-portraits,...