THE PORTRAIT OF REMBRANDT

In studying the fifteen pictures of this collection, we have seen something of the work of the great Dutch master, Rembrandt, and have learned a little of the man himself, of his love for the sweet wife, Saskia, of his friendship with the cultured burgomaster, Jan Six, of his faithful and reverent study of the Bible, of his rare insight into people's character. We are ready now to look directly into the artist's own face, in a portrait by his own hand.

There are a great many portraits of Rembrandt etched and painted by himself. We have noticed how fond he was of painting the same model many times, in order to make a thorough study of the face, in varying moods and expressions. Now there was one sitter who was always at hand, and ready to do his bidding. He had only to take a position in front of a mirror, and there was this model willing to pose in any position and with any expression he desired. So obliging a sitter could nowhere else be found; and thus it is that there is such a large collection of his self-made portraits.

His habit of painting his own portrait gave him an opportunity to study all sorts of costume effects. His patrons were plain, slow-going Dutchmen who did not want any "fancy" effects in their portraits. They wished first of all a faithful likeness in such clothing as they ordinarily wore. It was chiefly in his own portraits that Rembrandt had the satisfaction of painting the rich and fanciful costumes he loved so well. He wore in turn all sorts of hats and caps, many jewels and ornaments, and every variety of mantle, doublet, and cuirass. In this he was somewhat like an actor taking the parts of many different characters. Sometimes he is an officer with mustaches fiercely twisted, carrying his head with a dashing military air. Again he is a cavalier wearing his velvet mantle, and plumed hat, with the languid elegance of a gentleman of leisure. Sometimes he seems a mere country boor, a rough, unkempt fellow, with coarse features and a heavy expression.

As we see him acting so many rôles, we may well wonder what the character of the man really was. As a matter of fact, he was full of singular contradictions. In his personal habits he was frugal and temperate to the last degree, preferring the simplest fare, and contenting himself with a lunch of herring and cheese when occupied with his work. On the other hand, his artistic tastes led him into reckless extravagance. He thought no price too great to pay for a choice painting, or rare print, upon which he had set his heart. He was generous to a fault, fond of his friends, yet living much alone.

In the portrait we have chosen for our frontispiece, we like to believe that we see Rembrandt, the man himself. He wears one of his rich studio costumes, but the face which he turns to ours is quite free from any affectation; a spirit of sincerity looks out of his kindly eyes. The portrait is signed and dated 1640, so that the man is between thirty and thirty-five years of age. This was the happiest period of Rembrandt's life, while his wife Saskia was still living to brighten his home.

We see his contentment in his face. He has large mobile features, which have here settled into an expression of genial repose. He has the dignified bearing of one whose professional success entitles him to a just sense of self-satisfaction, but he is not posing as a great man. He is still a simple-hearted miller's son, a man whom we should like to meet in his own family circle, with his little ones playing about him. He is a man to whom children might run, sure of a friendly welcome; he is a man whom strangers might trust, sure of his sincerity. It is, in short, Rembrandt, with all the kindliest human qualities uppermost, which show us, behind the artist, the man himself.