Picture of the month

Rembrandt, 'Self Portrait at the Age of 34', 1640

Rembrandt painted himself many times during his life, but never in a more confident and self-assured manner than in this self-portrait of 1640.


At this time, aged 34, Rembrandt was already the most successful history and portrait painter in Amsterdam. Here he gives no visual clues to his profession, but he indicates his wealthy status by wearing an elaborate costume of furs and velvets, a gold chain around his neck, and jewels in his hat.

Rembrandt drew inspiration from portraits by the Renaissance masters Raphael and Titian for this painting. Much of the costume comes from Raphael’s portrait of the writer Baldassare Castiglione (Paris, Louvre). However, the way he leans over the stone parapet, almost intruding into our space, is indebted to Titian’s Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo.

At the time it was painted, this portrait was thought to represent the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto. By dressing in Renaissance costume and posing as Ariosto, Rembrandt was likening himself to a poet, suggesting that poetry and painting are on a par, at a time when painters were commonly regarded as craftsmen who were morally, intellectually, and creatively inferior to poets.

Rembrandt’s emulation of Raphael and Titian even extends to his painting technique, which is here smooth and meticulous, unlike his usual expressive style in which he plays with the contrast between thick and thin paint, and shows every movement of his brush. In fact, the only brushstroke typical of Rembrandt in this painting is on the back of the artist’s neck, where some of the hairs are scratched into the wet paint with the pointed end of the brush handle.

Rembrandt: 'Self Portrait at the Age of 34'