Rembrandt's earliest self portraits show a curly-haired, full-cheeked young man of 23, full of confidence, clad in dress above his station, literally wearing his ambition on his sleeve.
By the time we see his haggard face 40 years later we feel as though we know him like an uncle.
For centuries, his personal story was shrouded by the romanticism of admirers who preferred to perpetuate the legend of an artist toiling away in obscurity in an all-consuming quest to unravel the secrets of the soul.
But as the Dutch celebrate his 400th birthday on July 15, some of those myths are being demolished. Compared with contemporaries like Vermeer, his life is surprisingly well documented - with his bankruptcy and court cases providing a treasure trove of detail.
Rembrandt's work and his life are open to the public as never before during the yearlong festival "Rembrandt 400." Nearly 100 oils have been loaned to Dutch museums, adding to the 49 permanently housed in the Netherlands.
A series of spectacular exhibitions highlight different aspects of his work. "Rembrandt: Quest for Genius" probed his use of light and motion. "Rembrandt and Caravaggio" paired him with the Italian Renaissance master whom he studied early in his career. "Rembrandt's Mother" sought to unscramble the various elderly women he and his students portrayed. "The Jewish Rembrandt," opening later this year, looks at his relationships with his Jewish neighbors and patrons and his biblical themes.
The Rembrandt Ice Sculpture Festival drew 280,000 visitors. There are recorded Rembrandt walking tours, an internationally broadcast radio drama and a host of new books to add to the tens of thousands of publications about him.
Van de Wetering dismisses the notion of Rembrandt as the impoverished artist driven to heights of creativity by his fiery emotions. Rather, he conceptualized his craft dispassionately, in a constant search for greatness. His inventiveness and originality did not come without hard work. He made small studies of light and shadow, of facial expressions before incorporating them into historical works or biblical allegories.
During his lifetime artist had 25 conflicts with his family, creditors, patrons and even sitters who claimed he cheated them.
Rembrandt was never the poor struggling artist. He won fame from an early age and commissions kept flowing. But he was miserable money manager and profligate spender. He went bankrupt and was evicted from his home in 1658. Four years later he even sold Saskia's grave site to pay off debts.
New works are still being discovered. Two, borrowed from Warsaw Castle for exhibit, were long attributed to "Rembrandt's studio." Cleaned of grime, x-rayed and chemically tested while still in Poland, Van de Wetering announced earlier this year that they came from the master's own brush, the AP reports.
He painted self-portraits throughout his life, not to satisfy his ego nor to explore his soul, but because he was a name brand and they sold well.
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