GAZE AT his scores of self-portraits — a procession of circumstance and experience and pain — and Rembrandt, that most humane of painters, gifts us with a sense of deep connection. Just barely beneath the parade of his posed charades — rendered in this most social of media — is the narrative arc of unflinching honesty.
The Dutch master not only looks at us; he also looks into us.
By 1659, Rembrandt — at age 53 — had suffered. He had endured the death of three of his four children by his first wife, as well as that of their mother, Saskia van Uylenburgh. He was also only three years removed from falling upon financial insolvency.
And so in 1659’s “Self-Portrait With Beret and Turned Up Collar,” we see his surviving sense of jaunty panache — “Old age is a hindrance to creativity but cannot crush my youthful spirit,” the Dutch master said — yet in his face’s lines, we find a through-line: He wants us to see and feel natural human truth in his faded youth.
To see this oil-on-canvas “Self Portrait” in real life, one must visit Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art. But today, to experience this very portrait of Rembrandt’s real life, you can also go to Google’s home page, as the tech titan celebrates the 407th anniversary of the artistic titan’s birth with a dusky and beguiling Doodle.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606 in Leiden, in what is now the Netherlands — comfortably middle class as the son of a miller — and he learned quickly from a series of art teachers. By his early 20s, he was so gifted that he was accepting students himself. And so, in a 1630 self-portrait of etching and burin, we see Rembrandt with eyes as wide open as his future.
Study a self-portrait of Rembrandt at age 34 — as his business thrived in Amsterdam — and you see a man wearing not only fine clothes, but also the assured expression of success. Unbeknownst to sitter and artist, though, is the dark side of his life’s emotional chiaroscuro — and the degree to which living beyond his means would mortgage his financial future.
By the time we get to the visage featured in today’s Doodle, Rembrandt’s brushwork had arrived at his lasting style — his use of color as rich as a deeply lived existence, his use of light sometimes as jagged as the loose ends of his life (a few years earlier, he had a daughter by his much younger maid, Hendrickje Stoffels).
A decade later, Rembrandt would create self-portraits that reflected his honest pained aging — even as the master said that “sincerity is the eventual deception of all great men.” By this time, he had sold his fine Amsterdam house (now a Rembrandt museum), his printing press and most of his collection. He had also outlived both young Hendrickje (who died in 1663) and his lone grown son, Titus, who passed the year before his father would.
Rembrandt died in 1669, in Amsterdam, leaving behind hundreds of paintings and etchings — from portraits to biblical and mythical scenes — that would cement his reputation as one of the world’s greatest painters and printmakers.
Year after year, he worked diligently through hardships of money and emotion, ever evolving his style and his power to summon a sense of deep humanity. As proof, just look beneath his beret.
As he intended, you can just see it in his face.
TOP 10 GOOGLE DOODLES THAT HONOR VISUAL/MUSICAL ARTISTS:
1. WINSOR McCAY: THE OTHERWORDLY DOODLE
2. LES PAUL: THE PLAYABLE GUITAR
3. MARTHA GRAHAM: THE DANCING DOODLE
4. JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE THIS DOODLE
5. FREDDIE MERCURY: THE MUSIC VIDEO
6. JIM HENSON: THE CLICKABLE MUPPETS
7. CHARLES ADDAMS: THE SPOOKY DOODLE
8. ART CLOKEY: THE “GUMBY DOODLE”
9. MARY BLAIR: THE DISNEY DOODLE
10. DIEGO RIVERA: THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE MURAL