by Gerald Grow
Seeking ways to experience Rembrandt's self-portraits, I thought to combine elements of a youthful portrait with a portrait from late in life, in the hopes that the composite portrait would show something new about the other two.
This is the result.
|Rembrandt self-portrait, c. 1628 (Rijksmuseum)||Rembrandt self-portrait, 1659 (National Gallery)|
|A composite of young and old in Rembrandt's self-portraits.|
The eyes were copied from the later portrait, flopped, resized, and the intensity of their color was reduced so they would blend better with the youthful portrait. No other changes were made.
The apparent changes in the eyes (more accusatory, almost alarmed) and the face (now more shocked, perhaps resentful) and the overall expression of suspicion, disillusion, and pained empathy -- are brought about by the juxtaposition of the two images.
Experimenting with this picture, I tried several sets of eyes from different Rembrandt paintings and drawings, superimposing them onto the youthful portrait. What is remarkable about the youthful portrait is the way it accepted and reflected any expression in the eyes that were superimposed onto it.
This suggests that Rembrandt studiously created a youthful face that has no single, formed expression, no settled self, but becomes whatever is projected upon it. That sounds like a way of talking about what it means to be at a particular null-point in a youth's formation of identity, as if the youth were saying:
This portrait, then, could be not just a self-portrait, but also a "tronie," a character type. It may be seen as Rembrandt's visual representation of the open, unfinished, sensitive, reactive stage of youth--and of that state of being in himself, and in us all.
Rembrandt by Himself, Ed. Christopher White and Quentin Buvelot. National Gallery Publications, 1999.
Being Seen By Rembrandt
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