Rembrandt’s Self-portrait at a Window and Matisse’s Self-portrait as an Etcher

We have seen elsewhere how Rembrandt represented himself in the guise of Jan Gossaert, an early sixteenth-century painter. Here he represents himself etching by a window in emulation of Perugino’s self-portrait from around 1500 at a similar window.1

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Rembrandt, Self-portrait at a Window(1648)

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He not only adopted Perugino's pose next to the window but also, possibly, some of the features: small eyes, pudgy face and thin mouth. Perhaps they shared them, a similarity that Rembrandt would have valued as evidence of their kinship.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Perugino, Self-portrait (1497-1500)   

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Thus, in 1900, Matisse recognizing what Rembrandt had done, etched himself like Rembrandt at a desk but added features not used by Rembrandt from the original Perugino portrait. By combining elements of three great masters in one, Matisse extended his family tree back into the Renaissance.

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Matisse, Self-portrait Etching(1900-03)

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Compare the features of the artists. Note how Matisse (left) and Perugino (center) have eyebrows at a similar angle. Matisse's hairline and shading below combine to resemble the diagonal contour across Perugino's brow. Meanwhile Perugino (center) and Rembrandt (right) share the same shape face with similar eyelids and similar lips.

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On other occasions Rembrandt portrayed himself as Zeuxis, the legendary painter of ancient Greece, and is said to have identified with Rubens as well.

This sense of identification with multiple great masters indicates how true masters perceive canonical art, not as the competing oeuvres of numerous individual artists, as convention presumes, but as a unifying activity. All great masters are so completely immersed in the great art that has come before them that they are united in a common purpose with their predecessors. Their portraits, like these here, express this.

Notes:

1. The subject and attribution of this picture has been much discussed. Specialists now agree that it is a painting of Perugino though some think that it is by his pupil, Lorenzo di Credi.  Both Rembrandt and Matisse would have thought that it was Perugino’s self-portrait.

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