No artist has probed the potential of self-portraiture with greater tenacity and variety than Rembrandt. Over the course of his long career, he made over eighty self-portraits in oil, in chalk, in pen and ink and wash, and in etching. A large portion of these self-examinations were created while he was a young man and served to spread his fame, while advertising his abilities in portraiture and dramatic expression. But perhaps Rembrandt’s most soul-searching and moving images date from the end of his career; characteristically, his self-scrutiny was first considered carefully in etching before being pursued in painting.
Unpretentious, “Self-Portrait at a Window,” reflects a traditional portrait type used since the fifteenth century. Not striking a pose, the artist is caught in the middle of his most intimate and natural activity, etching on a plate resting on a folded piece of cloth on top of several books. In this particularly fine impression of the finished print, Rembrandt’s gaze rivets the viewer with a soul-searching energy that seems capable of fueling his late, great painted investigations.