Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself with grooves around his eyebrows and drooping jowls, as a man marked with the vicissitudes of life.This mysterious work usually hangs in Kenwood House, a small museum in London. Here we see the master himself, in an unsigned portrait, in the last phase of his sorely tested life. Behind the painter himself are the circles that still puzzle art historians about what Rembrandt intended them to mean. The hand holding the brushes is a striking feature in that it is so vaguely depicted. It seems as if Rembrandt also gave viewers a role in the creative process: that of using our powers of perception to complete the painting in our head.
Over his entire career, Rembrandt made around eighty self-portraits. During his early period, we see him as an artist bursting with energy; he even draws himself making funny faces. In his twenties and thirties, when he had become a successful painter, he focused on portraying himself as a serious artist by including references to the great artists of the past. The approximately fifteen self-portraits that he made during the last period of his life depict him primarily as a person directing his attention to his own inner world, often in a confrontational manner.
When was it completed?
It is plain to see in Self-Portrait with Two Circlesthat Rembrandt has used a pen to scratch into it. The left eyebrow with the wrinkle is unrecognisable when viewed from up close; what the paint represents becomes clear only from a distance. Critics in Rembrandt’s time complained that Rembrandt’s work looked unfinished. But Rembrandt himself determined when a work was finished and left much of it up to the viewer. This is why this self-portrait still looks so contemporary to us today: an impressionist painting avant la lettre.
Hand with brushes
You won’t see it until it’s pointed out, but the hand in which Rembrandt is holding his brushes is not a hand at all. What we perceive as a hand has been created in our head.
Self-portrait as the Apostle Paul
In the self-portraits he made the year before he died, we see a frail, elderly man. Yet his style is fresher and more alive than ever.
Rembrandt made around eighty self-portraits. These were made primarily because of the great demand for them. In other words, he could earn good money from selling them
Over het schilderij
- Self Portrait with Two Circles (about 1665-69)
- Canvas, 114.3 x 94 cm
- Kenwood, London, The Iveagh Bequest
On display at the ‘Late Rembrandt’ exhibition will be more than a hundred works created during the last phase of Rembrandt’s life. To get you in the mood, here are twelve works included in this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition.
The Syndics, 1662
A meeting of five important inspectors of the Amsterdam drapers’ guild behind a table. Rembrandt turned this meeting into a visually exciting scene.Read more
Self Portrait with Two Circles, ca. 1665-1669
Rembrandt made many self-portraits during his career. What makes this one so notable is his ruthless honesty in portraying himself.Read more
Bathsheba with King David’s Letter, 1654
This is one of the most famous paintings hanging in Louvre. Here we see a beautiful young woman bathing. She has just read a letter and now finds herself in a dilemma.Read more
The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665
What you immediately notice about this large painting is Rembrandt’s rough application of paint. In this work, Rembrandt broke with all conventions of the day by smeering on and scratching through the paint.Read more
The Family Portrait, ca. 1665
‘The Family Portrait’ has not travelled since 1956. Just for this once, it is on loan to the Rijksmuseum especially for this exhibtion.Read more
A Woman bathing in a Stream, 1654
Here we see an alluring woman wading through the water while slowly lifting the hem of her dress. But who is this beauty?Read more
Recumbent Lion, ca. 1660-1665
Rembrandt preferred to draw lifelike representations of things he saw around him in real life. This lion is a good example.Read more
A Young Woman sleeping, ca. 1654
This drawing of a woman taking a quick nap is very typical of Rembrandt: an artist who was always recording the little scenes in his everyday life.Read more
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph, 1656
When painting this Biblical story about Jacob, Rembrandt chose an unexpected moment that must have been a surprising choice for viewers of his day.Read more
Titus at his Desk, 1655
Rembrandt made clever use of painting techniques to evoke a sense of endearment when viewing this work in which we can recognise his own son.Read more
The conspiracy of the Batavians under Claudius Civilis, ca. 1661-1662
In this painting, Rembrandt made use of a clever and entirely new technique to tell a story.Read more
Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback, ca. 1663
As an artist, Rembrandt was familiar with the rules of portraiture but he pushed the boundaries whenever possible.Read more