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Video transcript

Rembrandt is in this room with us I'm looking at him he's looking at me is incredibly present in this self-portrait from 1660 we're here in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC Rembrandt made the self-portrait a subject in a way that it had never been his images of himself are so intimate they are so carefully observed in a sense he teaches me how to look closely and how even to look at oneself with the honesty and directness that he is looking at himself within a mirror we're in a room filled with Rembrandt's and if you look at the other portraits for instance look at the portrait of a young man you get a sense of the social distance that would have existed in the studio when Rembrandt was painting and this man sat with the kind of reserve and there was a social propriety the young man that we see here likely commissioned the portrait and was paying Rembrandt to make something for him so there was definitely a hierarchy there and he's distant stood there's all this foreground space in front of the figure that is absent here his left elbow is in our space maybe it's because Rembrandt doesn't need to flatter this sitter and in fact his purpose seems to be just the opposite to find every imperfection every wrinkle it expresses the life that this face has lived but Rembrandt's self-portraits through his career were really of different types there were the examples where he's showing himself as a young man very well dressed there are times when he's in costume with Saskia his wife on his knee but then later in self-portraits like this you really see this introspective look and you feel the way that Rembrandt layered was thick paint on the face and the rest is very loosely brushed but the face has a sense of being really worked the light moving across it from light to dark and light again and then picking up folds and not the hair on his face but it's also the muscles and the changes the subtle shifts in the architecture of that face that is being brought out by those brushstrokes I want to figure out how he's done it if you think about the Caravaggio asked use of dramatic lighting so you go from an area of stark illumination to an area of shadow usually that area is demarcated in a very clear way you're in Rembrandt there's a movement in an out of light that I think adds to that emotion and look at the coloration as well I'm seeing greens and yellows and blues and reds and browns and grays so the intimacy is two parts it's because of Rembrandt's own careful observation about what he's seeing but it's also about the fact that we can feel his hand moving the brush across this surface and so there's a kind of double intimacy well we do know that this was especially a vulnerable moment in Rembrandt's career he had been a very famous sought-after portrait painter in Amsterdam but had reached too far financially he had gone into debt and just a year or two before this painting he had declared bankruptcy and had to sell his assets to pay his creditors his wife that he loved very much Saskia had died but I think that you can step into the biographical a little too much and read this painting through the pain of those experiences clearly this is a man who has lived very complex and rich life as people do by the time they reach the age that Rembrandt has so we don't really need to read the biography to know that by the time you reach 53 that one is wiser when has experienced when has lived - the death of loved ones that's what life is and that's what Rembrandt has taken as his subject here you