I chose this Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul by Rembrandt to analyze through Grootenboer’s article. The article examined the idea of theatricality as a technique in creating effective portraits in the Netherlands. This portrait to me has that same air of mystery and engagement that Grootenboer praises in the Sweert’s portrait. While in the guise of a biblical figure, the facial expression of Rembrandt draws the viewer in, making us questions about the subject. The self exploration within this portrait embodies the dualism of portraits that were mentioned in the article. There is a duality between the clear introspection of thoughts we cannot decipher, yet there is evocation with his direct gaze and raised eyebrows almost confiding with the viewer.
The lighting of this portrait also contributes to the theatricality of Dutch painting. There is no clear light source, highlighting the emptiness and barren background creating a disorienting scene that makes us want to understand the moment. The mystery created by the shadowing makes this feel like a more intimate moment, like we’ve been caught watching Rembrandt and he has just looked up from his Godly work to engage with us. There are clues to the situation, but a lack of closure for the viewer on who he really is and what he really wants from us. The facial expression mixed with the rough and natural brushstrokes make this feel like a fleeting moment that we captured whether we were supposed to or not. The natural feeling of this moment is what sets it apart from the posed, yet realistic De Borch portraits, and instead puts it in the realm of the open-ended theatricality of the more powerful portraits of the 17th century.
Image: Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661 oil on canvas, h 91cm × w 77cm