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Rembrandt's Unsparing Eye

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Rembrandt's Unsparing Eye

Art & Design

Rembrandt's Unsparing Eye

Rembrandt's Unsparing Eye

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Rembrandt's 1660-self portrait. Met curator Walter Liedtke says Rembrandt's portrait is not about self-flattery. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Collection of Benjamin Altman. hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Collection of Benjamin Altman.

Rembrandt's 1660-self portrait. Met curator Walter Liedtke says Rembrandt's portrait is not about self-flattery.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Collection of Benjamin Altman.

Chuck Close's "Big Self-Portrait," 1967-68. Close says he admires Rembrandt's passion for truth as well as the way he slung paint onto the canvas. Courtesy of Walker Art Center Collection/Art Center Acquisition Fund. hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Walker Art Center Collection/Art Center Acquisition Fund.

Chuck Close's "Big Self-Portrait," 1967-68. Close says he admires Rembrandt's passion for truth as well as the way he slung paint onto the canvas.

Courtesy of Walker Art Center Collection/Art Center Acquisition Fund.

Alex Katz's self-portrait, "Sweatshirt II," 1990. Katz notes how Rembrandt could add specific details and edges to his paintings and still retain their overall fluidity. Courtesy of alexkatz.com/Portfolio of Ada and Alex. hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of alexkatz.com/Portfolio of Ada and Alex.

Alex Katz's self-portrait, "Sweatshirt II," 1990. Katz notes how Rembrandt could add specific details and edges to his paintings and still retain their overall fluidity.

Courtesy of alexkatz.com/Portfolio of Ada and Alex.

Saturday is the 400th birthday of one of the greatest painters of the Western world, Rembrandt van Rijn. The Dutch master's canvases told stories from history and the Bible, and he was the leading portrait painter of his day.

Today's artists and historians say what has carried through the centuries is Rembrandt's honesty and passion for truth. He painted what he saw: wrinkles, crags, warts. He spared no one... including himself. His 75 self-portraits are remarkable for their unflattering detail.

Walter Liedtke, curator at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, says that Rembrandt's hardships — losing a wife, a companion, three children and suffering a bankruptcy — are evident in his 1660 self-portrait.

The painting overall has a murky tone, but the face is extremely detailed, says Liedtke, showing the furrows in the brows, skin that appears to glisten with moisture, an off-centered dent above the nose, and hair bunched over an ear.

"It's extraordinary given that he's doing a self-portrait," says Liedtke, "how much attention he's paid simply to the behavior of light for its own sake. His brush is pitiless."

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