Self-Portrait in a Heavy Fur Cap
Leiden University Library holds two drawings and in the region of a hundred prints by Rembrandt, as well as works by his pupils and the staff of his studio. That explains why this self-portrait etching dating from 1631, his Leiden period, can be seen on the façade of the University Library.
Made in Leiden
No other painter produced as many self-portraits as Rembrandt. His first self-portraits date from the start of his career, in the mid-1620s; his last one from the year of his death, 1669. This self-portrait etching dates from 1631, the year in which he is thought to have moved from Leiden to Amsterdam. The signature tells us that he produced the etching in Leiden because he used the monogram RHL (Rembrandt Harmensz. Leydensis) in Leiden, but wrote his first name in full in Amsterdam.
Rembrandt’s features are immediately recognisable in this etching: the round face, the bulbous nose, the beard, the jaunty moustache and the wild curls, all of which are apparent in his early self-portraits. A fur cap covers his curls, but it is clear to see that he had already etched in his hair before adding the cap. The Leiden self-portraits are primarily studies of expression. Rembrandt used his own face to observe a whole range of expressions: laughter, frowning, pain or surprise. He practised these in front of a mirror before quickly recording them on the metal plate.
This self-portrait also shows how important capturing light was to Rembrandt. The right-hand side of his face is fully lit, whereas the left-hand side is almost completely in shadow. Although the print is only a few centimetres in size, Rembrandt still manages to demonstrate great variety in how he depicts the different surfaces. The subtle, fine lines of his face, the graceful lines of his hair and the heavy shading for his clothing, with the fur collar and cap. Rembrandt had only been practising the art of etching for a few years, but this demonstrates that he had already mastered the technique.