Rembrandt “1659 self portray” visual analysis

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Rembrandt “1659 self portray” visual analysis

Category: Satire Essay

Subcategory: Communication

Level: College

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Rembrandt “1659 self-portray” visual analysis
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Printed portraits are different from photos since they have some regions painted sharper than others, to catch viewers’ attention on a specific aspect. For instance, Rembrandt portraits focused on his face was used to show his emotions and health status. A finer detail to attract viewers’ interest and induce an analytical focus is enhanced by the application of finer brush strokes. In this paper, the focus will be on Rembrandt self-portrait of 1659. The six dimensions of analyzing portraits will be used. “To fully appreciate visual communication, you must be able to use some sort of critical method to analyze pictures. …. We analyze six perspectives of analyzing images”(Lester, 2013, p. 1). The perspectives are personal, cultural, ethical, critical, historical, and technical perspectives. The emphasis on this image reveals a lot of things that the Dutch artist was going through in his life. The production of self-portrait started from his early twenties to the early 60s the age of his death. Through the images, he shows his physical and emotional transitions. “Throughout his later work, Rembrandt focused on depicting the gaze: usually one that reflects thoughtfulness, suffering or some other implied inner complexity”. (Siegal, 2015, para. 7). He recognizes that youthfulness comes along with youthful destructions. He realizes that with old age a person bears the marks of aging like wisdom, and life experiences that have enhanced human beings emotional stability. In his youthful portraits, he seems to be emotionally unstable by showing a face of anger. The critical perspective on the portraits could elaborate why the eyes were his point of focus.

Critical perspective, “It requires an attempt to transcend a particular image and draw general conclusions about the medium and the culture from which it is produced, and the viewer” (Lester, 2013, p. 3). On the image, unlike regular painting where artists have self-images expressing joy and satisfaction in life Rembrandt image tells the contrary. In the portrait, he appears gloomy, old and probably tired due to his advanced age. Most parts of the portrait have been painted using dark color with an exception of the face that is highly illuminated. “The light that so effectively illuminates the head also accents the artist’s left shoulder and, to a lesser extent, his broadly executed clasped hands” ((Mellon, n.d, para. 4). In this portrait Rembrandt has worn dark clothes, the coat looks old, and the hurt is not an exception covering most of his gray hair. The dark colors match completely with the paintings revealing a dull mood. In the painting, only his facial skin is light, and the hands are excluded from the image meaning that they could have stolen an audience for the face. The face has markings showing how old he has become, and his eyes are looking straight into the viewer as if he is trying to read their mind. From the portraits, we can assume that Rembrandt is telling the world that he is not comfortable with his state at that moment. He even chooses old and dark clothes to express his defeat in enduring the life full of challenges, and as the financial challenges he was facing after his properties were auctioned. The challenges lead to sorrow, “Rembrandt painted this self-portrait in 1659, when he had suffered financial failure after many years of success” (Mellon, n.d, para. 3). Personal perspective comes hand in hand with a critical perspective in analyzing artistic images.
Personal perspective entails the subjection of a particular portrait on the viewer’s opinion. “Upon first viewing any image, everyone draws a quick gut level conclusion about the picture based entirely on personal response”(Lester, 2013, p. 2). It gives a partial meaning to the image and its relevance in its context. From this perspective, it’s clear that the light spreads from above his head to illuminate the face and some light partially reaches his clasped hands. The angle of the illumination allows some of his facial appearance to be more vivid than others, for instance, his left side of the face. “The expressive shading in these portraits tends to converge around the eyes and other facial hollows (i.e., cheeks, mouth, etc.). Giving the paintings a spatial as well as a psychological sense of depth” (Netto, 1999, para. 4). The previous photos were brightly colored, and rich clothes were used to depict his life by them but now in his new suffering life has turned in the direction where there is nothing to smile about. “The eyes, in particular, seem especially remote and detached from the rendered scene of the portrait……” ((Netto, 1999, para. 4). Line 4). Technical perspectives have various facets which give details concerning an artwork from various angles, and make the basis of historical and personal perspectives.
The ethical perspective of a portrait helps to analyze a painting on the basis of various principles. The medium and the texture of the art used reveal the value of the particular artistic work. “Six principal ethical philosophies can and should be used to analyze a picture. They are categorical imperative, utilitarianism, hedonism, the golden mean, the golden rule, and the veil of ignorance”(Lester, 2013, p. 3). In categorical imperative of the technical analysis, Rembrandt was a Dutch artist born in Netherlands on July 1606. He is categorically “looking at lasting art by Raphael, Titian, Durer, and he’s claiming his place in history,” (Siegal, 2015, Para 15)  which he viewed while in Amsterdam. The way he inclines his head and cheek are typical of Raphael’s style where more of his right side of his face is exposed. “Rembrandt’s pose was inspired by Raphael’s famous portrait of Balthazar Castiglione, which he saw at an auction in Amsterdam in 1639” (Mellon, n.d. para. 5). Hedonism principle is based on various achievements and pleasures of life, which are revealed by his work. The gloom on his face was contributed by the fact that he had worked hard over years and had become rich. All over sudden he is swimming in poverty since all his properties had been auctioned to pay his creditors. “In the beginning he’s showing laughter and anger, and he’s trying funny things, wearing funny headdresses and so on. Later on he’s more serious, more calm and he sees himself more in the distance” (Siegal, 2015, para. 8). The dark clothing’s and background shows that his life has taken a new turn a possibly a negative direction. Veil of ignorance, explains that all individual are equal and entitled to equal opportunity. Comparing the self-portrait of 1659 and his previous ones it’s clear that there is a gap between the rich, and the poor, and that principle is not applicable. Rembrandt was rich and happy but suddenly turns to be poor and sad; hence that equality is not something real in the society as revealed his changing economic conditions. The image was done on canvas and the art of painting on it was accomplished by oil painting.
Cultural perspective identifies the applied symbols in a portrait and trying to give their relevance to viewers. Some scholars suggested that Rembrandt use his images to study himself, and his findings would be used to explain some aspects of the society like emotions and health status. “He was his own most patient model….” (Siegal, 2015, para. 10). The cultural perspective can never be complete without the focus on historical perspective.
Historical perspective, focus on the medium used to paint the portrait and the reason for its preference.” Each medium of presentation from typography to networked interactive media has a unique history of circumstances that were set in motion and fostered by individuals interested in promoting the medium”(Lester, 2013, p. 3). The self-portrait by Rembrandt was done in 1659, on canvas by the use of oil paint. Canvas on paint was a widespread medium used across Europe by then, explaining why the image was done on the medium. “In such paintings as The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s canvas is rippled with contrapuntal rhythms of lighting, giving rise to a visual poetry of deep shadows alternating with rich and luxuriant highlights of color” (Netto, 1999, para. 3). The medium was also referred as Flemish painting maybe because oil was used as a form of fuel.
A technical perspective on a portrait helps to analyze the medium used by the painter. “With an understanding of the technique involved in producing an image, you are in a better position to know when the production cost is high or low”(Lester, 2013, p. 3). “The technique was initially pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci. It further developed by Caravaggio, and finally perfected by Rembrandt” (Netto, 1999, para. 1). “By way of this technique for contrasting and manipulating light and shadow, Rembrandt was able to achieve three specific effects which have become trademarks of his style: dramatic intensity, rhythmic visual harmony, and psychological depth” (Netto, 1999, para. 1). Rembrandt used the chiaroscuro to enhance the mood of the painting by making his background darker of more shadowed.  “By placing the point of greatest illumination on a central, active figure, and simultaneously muting elements of the background, Rembrandt and his Italian predecessors could focus the viewer’s attention onto a specific action in a manner similar to the way in which stage-lighting functions in the theater” (Netto, 1999, para. 1). Rembrandt used the shadow to sunken his eyes, this was to show that he was reflecting on his internal and probably undergoing some emotional problem. The shadow gives a clue that something is going on in his mind, but it is not known what it is.
In conclusion, Rembrandt have used the self-portrait art to speak to the society. He used himself as the subject for experimentation; he realized that human psychology can be manipulated to pass a specific message. He paints some parts brighter and others darker to elicit some mental imagination for specific interpretation. The use of canvas and oil was popular in the 15th and 16th century. “Rembrandt began inserting his own portrait as a bystander or participant, initiating a lifelong pursuit of self-portraiture. Today nearly 80 self-portraits—paintings, drawings, and prints—are attributed to him” (Mellon, n.d, para. 7).The six techniques are used to analyze all painting works, and all the aspects are covered by the Rembrandts self-portrait. He is regarded as the father of shadow and light; he is the one who made the most artwork on this technique.
Lester, P. (2013). Visual communication: Images with messages. Cengage Learning. Retrived from on August 28 2015Siegal, N. (2015, April 17). With Rembrandt, the Selfie Takes On New Meaning. Retrieved August 30, 2015, from
Netto, J. (1999). Rembrandt and the Technique of Chiaroscuro. Retrieved August 28, 2015, from Painting/Studies/Chiroscuro.htm
Mellon, A. (n.d.). Self-Portrait. Retrieved August 28, 2015, from