PASADENA, CA.- The Norton Simon Museum
presents The Familiar Face: Portrait Prints by Rembrandt, an exhibition of 15 etchings by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (16061669). Rembrandts prominence as a painter of portraits, particularly those of the merchants and burghers of Amsterdam, is well known. But the artists 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 artworks in The Familiar Face illustrate the artists keen power of observation as well as his gift for drama and humor.
Culled from the Norton Simons extensive collection of Rembrandt prints, the artworks on view offer a window to some of the personalities of Rembrandts age. 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 public role of the subject.
Rembrandts portrait of Petrus Sylvius in all likelihood was commissioned as a memento for Sylviuss friends and family in Amsterdam. Sylvius, a newly ordained preacher, was about to depart for his first ministry in Friesland, in the northern Netherlands. Another work, an etching of Jan Uytenbogaert, The Goldweigher, is presumed to have been 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. Perhaps not coincidentally, Uytenbogaerts portrait etching bears the date 1639.
Several etched examples of Rembrandts self-portraits are also included in the exhibition. A composition from 1636 depicts a confident 30-year-old Rembrandt drawing, with his wife, Saskia, alongside him. Twelve years later, he portrayed himself again at work, but more reflectively, sitting in a shadow-filled interior illuminated only by an open window.
Together, the 15 works presented in The Familiar Face shed light on Rembrandts world and introduce us to some of his friends, family members and contemporaries. The exhibition addresses the function of these portrait prints, whether they were commissioned, created at the artists initiative, or perhaps done as a meditation on the visage of a loved one. Biographies of the sitters are included when known.
The Familiar Face, organized by Gloria Williams Sander, Curator at the Norton Simon Museum, is one of several exhibitions held this winter to celebrate the wealth of Rembrandts works in Southern California museum collections. Rembrandt exhibitions are also being presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Timkin Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum at UCLA.