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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Rembrandt van Rijn: Self-portrait 1660

James C. Harris, MD
JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(2):136-137. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.823.
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Bak, who was the chief sculptor to Pharaoh Akhenaton, the Egyptian leader who championed realistic art during the Egyptian Amarna Period (circa 1365-1349/47 BC), offers one of the earliest examples of self-portraiture.2,3 He depicted himself realistically, squat and potbellied, standing with his wife Taheri in a niche of a stele peering out at the viewer. Phidias, the Greek architect and sculptor of the Goddess Athena, whose statue stood in the center of the Parthenon, placed a small portrait of himself, bald with bulging brow (quite distinct in appearance from the warriors), on her shield.2 Phidias died in prison. In one account, his imprisonment was for the impiety of placing himself in the presence of the divinity.2 Artists in the ensuing centuries continued to use their portraits as self-signatures. The independent self-portrait created for its own sake arose in northern Europe with Reformation artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).4 His self-portraits often illustrated his sense of success and his importance as an artist. Soon after Dürer, Caravaggio (1571-1610) depicted the mythological Narcissus, who, trembling at the beauty of his reflected face in a watery self-portrait, fell in love with his own image. Some critics propose that Narcissus' fascination with his own image is the precursor of self-portraiture. Caravaggio produced one of the most grotesque self-portraits when he placed his face on the decapitated head of Goliath.5

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Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669), Dutch. Rembrandt self-portrait, 1660. Oil on canvas, 81 × 67.6 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Credit line: Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913/Art Resource.

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Figure 1. Self-portrait in a cap [open-mouthed], 1630. Etching on paper, 51 × 46 mm. Signed with monogram and dated. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, NY. Photo credit: The Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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Figure 2. Self-portrait with tocque and gold chain, 1633. Louvre, Paris, France. Self-portrait with tocque and gold chain, 1633. Oil on wood, 61 × 48.1 cm (oval). Musee du Louvre, Paris, France. Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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Figure 3. Final self-portrait, 1669. Oil on canvas, 63.5 × 57.8 cm. Mauritshuis, The Hague, the Netherlands. Credit: Scala/Art Resource, New York, NY.

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