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Self-portraits in the Works of Velazquez and Rembrandt

Updated on July 5, 2012

Velazquez Self-Portrait

Diego Velazquez - Self Portrait, Circa 1640
Diego Velazquez - Self Portrait, Circa 1640 | Source

Rembrandt Self Portrait

Rembrandt Self Portrait 1659
Rembrandt Self Portrait 1659 | Source


Rembrandt was extremely fond of his self-portraits. The ones I was able to locate span from 1629 to 1669, a period of forty years. During that time, the changes that Rembrandt underwent are quite startling. He grows from a thin, somewhat attractive yet cocky young man who seems interested in working on the latest techniques – his 1629 self-portrait is quite a study in light and dark – to his last portrait, which shows him old and used, yet strangely looking more happy and content than any of the previous ones. For Rembrandt, self-portraiture appeared to be a way to track both his appear and talent, as well as his inner turmoil and concern.

Velazquez used his portraiture in a slightly different way. His most notable self-portrait, “Maids of Honor” was used as an attempt to elevate painters from the menial stature of manual workers to that of an artist so that he could be admitted to the “Knights of Santiago.” The delicate work apparently did its job as he later painted the cross of the order onto the court chamberlain costume that he painted himself in originally.

Rembrandt and Velazquez did any number of portraits, both groups and individuals. Portraiture was on the rise at the time, and the works done by these artists is exceptional. One of the nice things about being a portrait painter at the time was that the people involved wanted their portraits to be true to life. Because of this, Velazquez was able to show how people truly looked. Paintings like “Philip IV in Brown and Silver” show the result of years of inbreeding. Rembrandt did both simple works like “Nicolaes Ruts” and complex works that showed both individuals and their interests, such as “The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” These are amazing examples that still help us better understand the period today.

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