Rembrandt’s A Bearded Man in a Cap (1657)

Although this painting by Rembrandt of a bearded man in a cap was once thought to represent a Jewish rabbi, that idea has now been discarded because despite “Levantine features” his clothing does not indicate a rabbi's. Still unidentified, he qualified for an exhibition on Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits in 2005 because he looks so spiritual.1 He is spiritual; as all great artists are.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Rembrandt, A Bearded Man in a Cap (1657?)

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It has long been known that Rembrandt’s etching of himself in old-fashioned apparel (far left) is based on an etching after Jan Gossaert’s self-portrait from the sixteenth century (near left): one artist identifying with another. It is a common theme.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Rembrandt, Self-Portrait in Sixteenth Century Costume (1638)
Right: Anon., Etching after Jan Gossaert's Self-Portrait

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What has not been known is that Rembrandt was still interested in Gossaert's self-portrait two decades later because, however much his bearded man (far left) looks like he was painted from life - and Rembrandt may have used one for certain parts - the face, hat and shoulders are based on the same sixteenth-century etching of Gossaert (near left). The beard is longer, the eyes smaller but much else is the same.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Left: Rembrandt, Detail of A Bearded Man in a Cap
Right: Detail of an etching after Jan Gossaert's Self-Portrait

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Whoever this self-absorbed man is meant to represent on the surface for the casual viewer, underneath for a viewer more esoterically-inclined Rembrandt is identifying with an earlier master in their common search for self-knowledge or divine wisdom, what is sometimes called gnosis. That is why the figure looks so self-absorbed: the only divinity he or we will ever confront is inside our own mind, not outside.

Captions for image(s) above:

Rembrandt, A Bearded Man in a Cap (1657?)

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Notes:

1. Rembrandt's Late Religious Portraits (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) 2005, pp. 70-73

2. ibid., p. 132

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 09 Mar 2011. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.