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Rembrandt, Self Portrait at the Age of 63

Key facts
Full title Self Portrait at the Age of 63
Artist Rembrandt
Artist dates 1606 - 1669
Date made 1669
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 86 × 70.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1851
Inventory number NG221
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Self Portrait at the Age of 63

This is one of three self portraits Rembrandt made just before his death in 1669. About 80 survive from his 40-year career, far more than any other artist of his time. He painted them for different reasons – to practise different expressions, to experiment with lighting effects, and also to sell to wealthy patrons and collectors.

In this one, Rembrandt is preoccupied with depicting the textures and colours of his own ageing face. The sagging fold beneath his right eye is made with the swirl of a heavily loaded brush. The blemishes on his forehead are formed of blotches of coagulated paint.

Many later writers and artists have interpreted this as intense, unflinching, existential honesty: Rembrandt coming to terms with the approach of death. But in the seventeenth century people had different ideas about self-analysis and how the mind works than we do now. Rembrandt’s motives may have been more straightforward – driven less by soul-searching, and more by a professional fascination with the challenges of his art.

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