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Rembrandt with Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

European Art

Rembrandt made more than ninety self-portraits throughout his life, using his visage to project different personae—soldier, prince, scholar—all mirroring the human condition. He wanted to make his face as known as the single name Rembrandt, which was the way he began to sign his work after 1633. In this etching, made when he was twenty-eight and already successful, he wears a breastplate, a cloak, and a plumed cap—the kind of costume articles he kept in his studio to help create his many guises. Such “exotic” items could have been brought to Holland from Asia in the 1630s by the Dutch East India Company.

Rembrandt experimented with the etching process to achieve a remarkable range of tonal and linear effects, often reworking and printing his compositions in various versions, or states. The first state of this image was a three-quarter portrait that included a lowered sabre in the figure’s hand. For this second state, Rembrandt reduced the image to an oval focused on the face and upper torso. Additionally, this impression has been trimmed very close to the plate edge, something that many early collectors did to fit prints into albums.

Titus Kaphar: Rembrandt’s hand is in his etchings, in particular, is in his drawings as well. It’s . . . such a fingerprint. . . .There’s something about the etchings and the drawings that feels so much more specific and so much harder to copy. . . . It’s such a specific voice, it’s such a specific hand. Yeah, I love that about it. There’s a looseness to it that is incredibly different from the technique in the Wenceslaus Hollar etching, where there is a kind of formalized line over a line in one direction, and then line over line the other direction. Rembrandt is just very loosely sketching this out in a way that I think gives it a lot more energy and a lot more life.

MEDIUM Etching on laid paper
  • Place Made: Netherlands
  • DATES 1634
    DIMENSIONS Plate (oval): 5 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. (13.3 x 10.8 cm) Sheet: 5 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. (13.3 x 10.8 cm)
    SIGNATURE Signed, lower right in plate: "Rembrandt f. 1634"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 57.188.48
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mrs. Charles Pratt
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