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Titus at his Desk, 1655

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Here we see Rembrandt’s young son sitting dreamily at a desk, pen in hand. Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work.

The works of Rembrandt give us a great deal of insight into the world around him: the city of Amsterdam, its surroundings, and the people with whom he lived and must have loved. This intimate painting of Titus at his desk shows the artist’s young son as he contemplates what he wants to write or draw. Rembrandt portrayed him in an exceptionally beguiling way, from just a few feet away, and with almost impressionistic brushstrokes. In doing so, Rembrandt is graciously inviting us not just to observe but to become involved. 

An appealing thought 

Many Dutch painters had their wife, children and servant girls model for them. This was not actually in line with artistic tradition, but Rembrandt saw little wrong in it. We know Rembrandt as an artist who was constantly observing and drawing the world around him. From his work, we have come to know his own face, his first wife Saskia who died at a young age, and the beauty of his beloved Hendrickje with whom he lived for more than twenty years. What an appealing thought to realise that the endearing portrait of a boy dreamily staring out into space is a picture of Titus, the only son that Saskia and Rembrandt had together. It’s easy to imagine the painter watching his son daydreaming while writing or drawing and then picking up his brush to capture the moment.

Klik om in te zoomen
Too close to be real
Titus’s left hand and his leather pen stand and inkwell seem to enter our own personal space. The boy comes closer and closer yet. What makes him appear so lifelike and his preoccupation with his own thoughts almost tangible, is being accomplished not by attempting to replicate reality but by suggesting it. Without our being aware of it, Rembrandt is doing something here that is entirely new in the history of art. Today, our eyes are used to seeing pictures made with a telelens to take extreme close-ups of people. You can get this close to a subject with a photographic lens – but standing this close to your model when behind an easel would not only be uncomfortable, but actually impossible. Thanks to other portraits by the artist we can recognise the face of Rembrandt’s only son.

We have become familiar with the people Rembrandt loved from his drawings, etchings and paintings. Even Rembrandt’s son has been immortalised

Paletmes

No scientist in history had ever looked at the use of the pallet knife in Rembrandt’s work, but for this exhibition, art historians did. They discovered the particular way Rembrandt used this technique in painting his son Titus, in 1654. At that time, Rembrandt was in his late forties and his son was 13 years old. It was then that Rembrandt started to use the pallet knife – not in all of his work but very frequently, and usually in just a few places in a painting. During the last years of his life, in the 1660s, he made widespread use of the pallet knife. 

The face becomes recognisable as a face only when stepping back a ways from the painting; then, it suddenly falls into focus.     

An artist ahead of his times

By means of his brushstrokes, it seems as though Rembrandt purposely left his work partially unfinished so that our own powers of perception could take over from there. A famous French art critic and contemporary of Rembrandt praised the Dutch painter for using this technique to involve us, the viewers, in his painting. In fact, this was a very revolutionary idea and unique at that point in art history. 

Over het schilderij

  • Titus at his Desk, 1655
  • Oil paint on canvas, 77 x 63 cm
  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
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