“Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.”—Rembrandt
Earlier this week, I spent some time looking upon the 23-year-old artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, depicted in the self-portrait featured above, which now hangs in the Dutch Room of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Painted in 1628, the masterwork is one of more than 80 of the artist’s self-portraits that are known to exist.
For those who have read the book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft, you may recall that three paintings were stolen from the museum’s Dutch Room on the morning after St. Patrick’s Day in 1990 — Vermeer’s “The Concert,” Flinck’s “Landscape With An Obelisk,” and Rembrandt’s “Christ In The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee” have not been seen in more than 30 years. It is a miracle that the artist’s self-portrait, one of his earliest, was left untouched during a robbery that saw a total of 13 works of art lost.
While certainly not unique to me, Rembrandt has long been one of my favorite artists. I’ve been fortunate to view his works in museums around the world, and I’ve made it a point to seek out his self-portraits. You’ll find the largest collections of those paintings in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (unsurprisingly) and the National Gallery in London. An old friend, who studied art history at university, once shared the Rembrandt quote I’ve included in this newsletter — upon hearing it, I was inspired with a particular curiosity to trace the development of his self-portraiture… I wonder, do the marks and wrinkles that begin to appear on his aged face in later works reflect a life of violence, excesses, or kindness?
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