This is part of a series I am doing on the Louvre, stuff I really love. There is so much art at the Louvre this is an endless task, but at least I am giving it a try. The portrait above was done in 1660 (he died in 1669), late in his life titled “Portrait of the Artist at his Easel.”
Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt's later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships. Yet his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime, his reputation as an artist remained high, and for twenty years he taught many important Dutch painters. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in his portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.
It wasn't until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when scholars studied Rembrandt's oeuvre as a whole, that it was discovered how very many times the artist had portrayed himself. The number is still a matter of contention, but it seems he depicted himself in approximately forty to fifty extant paintings, about thirty-two etchings, and seven drawings. It is an output unique in history; most artists produce only a handful of self-portraits, if that. And why Rembrandt did this is one of the great mysteries of art history.
Rembrandt may have used his own face because the model was cheap, but perhaps he was killing two birds with one stone. The art-buying public–which now included people from many walks of life, not only aristocratic or clerical patrons, as in the past–went for etchings of famous people, including artists. By using himself as the model for these and other studies, Rembrandt was making himself into a recognizable celebrity at the same time that he gave the public strikingly original and expressive tronies. The wide dissemination of these and other prints was important in establishing Rembrandt's reputation as an artist.