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Rembrandt was an artist who re-invented the possibilities and significance of the etching medium, almost singlehandedly. It was no-longer a commercial choice to distribute paintings more widely, but an expressive of creativity every bit as impressive as oil painting.
We all are aware of Rembrandt's constant use of self-portraiture within his career, willing to look deeply into his own soul, and put we he saw onto the canvas or paper. He was happy and willing to portray all elements of his character, be it positive or negative. This was unusual and he would even depict himself as a beggar from time to time, that others of this period would never have done.This was an artist who captured expressions beautifully, and eyes would always play the most important role within his portraits, as displayed perfectly in this etching from 1630. Even amidst the huge numbers of self portraits that he produced across a variety of different mediums, this piece will never leave your mind once you have first seen the expression on the Dutchman's face, which seems to be one of surprise, perhaps even shock.
The artist incorporated large amounts of crosshatch strokes within this etching, where form is produced by literally crossing lines together in intense arrangements. There are then looser strokes for the outer parts of his hair, to allow a little more freedom and expression. In other painted examples he might actually use the bottom of his brush in order to scrape directly into the paint to produce a similar type of result for the looser head hairs. He then provides much thicker coloured areas for the key parts of the face, namely the eyes as well as where the bottom of the nose and lips would be darkened by shadows. Anything below his neck, plus his shoulders, are left completely devoid of detail, underlining where the importance in this artwork lay. Rembrandt was always a particularly honest and open artist who did not have the same necessity to promote his own image within his work, but rather concentrate on expressing the emotions that he felt, or that he saw in others.
He would produce around 90 self portraits during his career, though there may have been more that have since been lost or damaged. This genre has always offered productive, motivated artists an opportunity to work in pretty much any environment, so long as they had the right tools to hand. One can also learn so much by studying this varied series across his lifetime, to not only judge his progression through life, but also to examine how his opinions of himself may have changed over time. This particular etching can now be found in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Most visitors to this fine institution will also be interested to check out some of the other notable artworks from Rembrandt's career, including Night Watch, Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul and The Jewish Bride.