Rembrandt's Self-Portrait at the Age of 63
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Self-portrait at the age of 63 (1669), by Rembrandt (National Gallery in London)
This painting is the penultimate of over 80 self-portraits executed by the Dutch artist Rembrandt over the course of his life. It was painted a few months before his death in October of 1669.
What strikes me about this painting is its vulnerability. It is a testament to Rembrandt’s self-awareness and self-scrutiny.
Rembrandt emerges from the dark and muddy background, materialising before our very eyes. His face is illuminated with light, bringing his features to life.
Rembrandt sits in a three-quarter stance; his hands are clasped gently before him. He wears a red velvet fabric which blends almost seamlessly with the muddy background, thus putting all the focus on his expressive face. The dramatic chiaroscuro and the heavy impasto on the lighter areas of the painting, create a three-dimensional illusion to the extent that we feel Rembrandt standing right before us.
The impasto, which is thickest on his face, creates that impression that his flesh is dissolving into pigment.
There is a startling truthfulness in this self-portrait. Rembrandt presents himself as a frail old man with scabby skin, grey hair and red-rimmed eyes. He is presenting himself as a weary man worn down by the strains of life and the many hardships he endured including the death of his wife and three children, and bankruptcy. There is an undeniable poignancy in his otherwise ambiguous expression.
His features are so real and expressive that they stir and provoke feelings in us, the viewer.