Rembrandt, Self-portrait (1628)

Eyes in shadow, mouth slightly open, and hair in wild curls, Rembrandt seems to hide more than he reveals in his early self-portrait from 1628. There’s something very rough and unformed about his personality (a remarkable self-scrutiny for a young man of 22) that he’s able to convey through his handling of the paint. I’m struck, in particular, by three quick daubs of whitish impasto that reside on the surface of the panel, never quite becoming part of the illusion of bodily presence: a small patch on the tip of the bulbous nose, a circular smear on the earlobe, and a short off-white line in the blue-gray shadow of his neck. Maybe because of the way they meet my eye as paint strokes first and foremost, before suggesting the illusionistic glint of highlights — as the work of a hand making a last-minute painterly signature, an emphatic ‘I am here’ statement — they suggest something of the brash, cocky, impetuous nature of the young man.

–Elise Smith