With more than 80 known self-portraits, the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn was a master of the genre. Some say he pre-dates the selfie by at least a few centuries, and the director of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits, likens flipping through the master’s catalogue to scrolling through someone’s social media account.
Rembrandt’s 17th century selfies, which ranged from ephemeral “snapshots” where he is pulling silly faces to stoic poses, were an experimental playground for his portraiture in general. Together, they trace his life in oil, etchings, pen, ink, and wash.
Today, Rembrandt’s vast oeuvre of self-portraits is scattered around the world, but a new book by TASCHEN, Rembrandt: The Self-Portraits, has brought them all together for the first time. Though an eagle-eyed viewer can spot his cameos in several of his larger paintings, the 175-page book focuses instead on his dedicated self-portraiture, where Rembrandt is depicted alone.
Authors Volker Manuth and Marieke de Winkel suggest that Rembrandt was ahead of his time in being acutely aware of the advertising power of his self-portraits, especially given that he was becoming a well-known artist in the Netherlands and beyond. By the final decades of his life, copies of his most popular “selfie” were frequently produced and sold by his workshop.
So what can we learn from the master-painter’s proclivity for depicting himself? Keep it weird and playful, for one. In mostly small, informal formats, Rembrandt sketched himself with a range of expressions through laughter, sorrow, grimaces, and grace. Next, know your angles. Although he experimented with poses, the master often depicted himself with his head tilted slightly to the right. And don’t be afraid to dress up. Rembrandt painted himself dressed in a mixture of different styles including fancy outfits and vintage, 16th-century garb.
Check out some of Rembrandt’s most unusual “selfies” below.
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