The Familiar Face: Portrait Prints by Rembrandt
Rembrandt van Rijn’s skill and reputation as a painter of portraits, particularly those of the merchants and burghers of Amsterdam, is well known. But the artist’s etched prints also have a place and purpose in recording the visages of his contemporaries. A skilled, innovative printmaker, Rembrandt embraced etching as a means of expression and experimentation. The Familiar Face: Portrait Prints by Rembrandt features 15 etchings of the personalities who sat for the artist, along with several self-portraits.
Although 17th-century Holland had an active trade in the portraits of politicians, heroes and renowned scholars, the majority of portrait prints made by Rembrandt were not intended for such a market. We know this because his prints do not bear the characteristic etched captions identifying the name and status of the subject. Petrus Sylvius, for example, was a newly ordained preacher called to his first ministry in Friesland in the northern Netherlands. In all likelihood his portrait was commissioned as a memento for his friends and family remaining in Amsterdam.
It is commonly presumed that Rembrandt’s etching of Jan Uytenbogaert, “The Goldweigher,” was produced by the artist as an act of gratitude. Uytenbogaert, the Receiver-General (or tax accountant) for the province of Holland, was a collector of prints and drawings, and he hosted many painters and poets in his Amsterdam house. In 1639, he assisted Rembrandt in receiving payment for paintings the artist had completed for Frederick Henry, the Prince of Orange. Coincidentally, Uytenbogaert’s portrait etching bears the date 1639.
The prints featured in The Familiar Face illustrate the artist’s keen power of observation as well as his truthfulness and gift for drama and humor. The Familiar Face is one in a series of exhibitions organized to celebrate the profusion of Rembrandt’s works in Southern California museum collections, with exhibitions held simultaneously at the Getty Museum, the Timkin Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum at UCLA. More information can be found at www.rembrandtinsocal.org.