Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain

Self-Portrait with Two Circles

Rembrandt, ca. 1665
English Heritage, Kenwood, London

Rembrandt’s late Self-Portrait with Two Circles surpasses almost all of his approximately 80 self-portraits, in its compositional clarity and condensed stylistic idiom, as well as in its technically complex and masterful rendering. With a penetrating gaze and an expression of supreme self-confidence, the artist presents himself with his painting utensils, which he holds in the manner of an attribute, in his left hand. He depicts himself standing boldly in front of a white wall, on which the enigmatic segments of two circles can be seen. They provide a stabilizing counterbalance for the figure of the artist, whose location is only fleetingly hinted at, within the pictorial composition. With great virtuosity, Rembrandt portrays himself as an imposing figure dressed in traditional clothing. Ever aware of the effect his image will have on the viewer, he employs the dynamic manner of painting typical of his later period.

Through the medium of painting itself, Rembrandt convincingly projects his own image as the unrivaled, brilliant artist he indeed was. Thus, the circles behind him – an allusion to Vasari’s account about the young Giotto – can be read as a testament to his supreme artistic skill.

Uta Neidhardt, Curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

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