Rembrandt’s Young Woman Leaning Against a Door (1657)

This woman, said to be leaning against a door, is often thought to be Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt's long-time lover and companion.1 The face, a leitmotif in the artist's work, is probably meant to represent her even if it was not a perfect likeness. Wives and lovers have often been used in art as a mirror-like reflection of the male artist, the other gender that makes their mind androgynous along with a woman's power to literally conceive the artist's off-spring.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Rembrandt, Young Woman Leaning Against a Door - Hendrickje Stoffels? (1657) Oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

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However, great artists rarely create a perfect likeness. That is not their objective. Instead they fuse their own face with the sitter's as I have already shown (left) of another portrait, also thought to be of Hendrickje Stoffels. The female faces in these two portraits are similar.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Rembrandt's Hendrickje Stoffels (?) (c.1654-9) Oil on canvas. Sudeley Castle, UK
R: Detail of Rembrandt's Self-portrait with a Gorget (c.1629) Oil on canvas. Mauritshuis, The Hague

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One un-noticed feature of Rembrandt's painting is the pose. Hendrickje leans against the door like Rembrandt would have raised his brush-hand to paint hers. The edge of the door, moreover, is just visible in the original like the edge of a canvas. Max Liebermann in a 1908 self-portrait adopts a similar pose, his head at the same angle. He, however, is right-handed but Hendrickje, the mirror-image of her right-handed lover, is shown as a lefty looking back out at Rembrandt to "paint" him. 

Note, too, how her hand is level with the diagonal of her eyes. He thereby conveys the link between hand and eye that had long been the hallmark of great art.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Rembrandt, Young Woman Leaning Against a Door
R: Max Liebermann, Self-portrait (1908) Oil on canvas. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum

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As I show of Velazquez's Las Meninas, which was unknown to Rembrandt but painted the same year, the entire picture represents a "mirror", the mirror of the artist's mind.2 Rembrandt depicts "himself" becoming fully human by incorporating into his mind his other half: combining male with female, subject with object, artist with model and, even, painter with his painting. In uniting opposites the artist portrays the purity and perfection of the poetic mind. 



 

Captions for image(s) above:

Rembrandt, Young Woman Leaning Against a Door

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

1. Many artists have used one particular face over and over again as a signature characteristic of their work though, as here, the face is often a fusion of the artist's and the sitter's. 

2. In Las Meninas the Infanta does not observe the presence of the king and queen, as conventionally believed, but is preening and looking at herself in a mirror which is the entire canvas. That way Velazquez from within the picture sees the same image we do which is why the depicted canvas appears to be the same size as the painting itself. See Velazquez's Las Meninas (1656).

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 27 Jul 2013. © 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.