Harmenzoon van Rijn Rembrandt Portrait of a Gentleman (Self-portrait)


Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte




585 x 755 mm

historical period


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Artwork Details

The painting depicts a young gentleman in half-length, in slightly turned position. The man is wearing a dark hat and an elegant black Spanish-style suit, embellished with a thin collar in white lace with a white shirt underneath that emerges from the sleeves. His hair is short, while the thick dark beard frames the young and beautiful face. Based on the inscription on the back of the painting and comparing this portrait with the printed effigy of Francesco Salviati on the artist’s biography in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, critics have tended to identify the gentleman as Francesco De’ Rossi himself, better known as Francesco Salviati, who was about thirty years old when he painted the work in the 1540s’. The painter had just returned his hometown Florence after a training trip to Rome, and he is portrayed here with great elegance and refinement. Behind him you can see a light-colored architecture which becomes darker in the rectangle in the center to highlight the beautiful head, while on the right his hand holds the hilt of a sword, an attribute that refers to the nobility and creates a reflection thanks to a refined play of light and shadow. The high quality of the work made critics believe that it had been painted by Raphael until the 19th century and it was already in the collections of the Farnese family in Rome since the 17th century. The painting could be the same described by Vasari in the life of his friend Salviati as “a self-portrait in oil, made by his very natural hand” as also confirmed by the great realism and naturalism with which he represented himself. His face is turned towards the viewer, and he is looking directly at them with slightly melancholic look. This noble figure represents culture and refinement that were the typical of the Tuscan artist’s character according to his contemporaries. In 1644 the work was attributed to Andrea del Sarto and it was mentioned in the inventory of the collection of Palazzo Farnese in Rome, where it was on display in the second as “a painting on panel with carved and gilded frontispiece frame of studs and walnut, with an ancient portrait with a sword in hand, perspective with pillars and door, by the hand of Andrea del Sarto”. The painting was also described in the inventories of the Farnese house in 1653, with the same attribution to Andrea del Sarto as a “portrait of a man dressed in black with a small collar and a cap on his head and a sword in his hand”. In 1672 the painting was in Parma, in the seventh chamber of Palazzo del Giardino, called the chamber of Paul III in homage to Pope Farnese. A few decades later, in 1708 the painting was located in Palazzo della Pilotta, also in Parma, where it remained until 1734 when it was moved to Naples. In that year the entire Farnese collection was passed to Bourbons through Elisabetta, the last descendant of the noble family and mother of Charles of Bourbon, who was crowned king of Naples in 1734. He moved the collection to the palace of Capodimonte in Naples.

Artist Details

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Rembrandt was born in 1606 in Leiden where he worked with Jacob van Swanenburgh in his early years.

In 1624 he moved to Amsterdam where he studied in Pieter Lastmann’s workshop, which was an important step in his career. Before Amsterdam he had been in Italy where he had seen the works of Adam Elsheimer and Caravaggio and his followers, which had a great influence on Rembrandt’s artistic style.

He returned to Leiden around 1625 and opened a workshop with great success and numerous students. During this period he painted his first major works, such as The Stoning of St. Stephen (Lyon, Musée des Beaux Arts), Tobit and Anna with the Kid (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and portraits of some of his relatives, where the colors are still bright but there are already some complex light effects which were typical for him. The following works, such as the Moneychanger (1627, Berlin, Dahlem) or St. Paul at his Writing Desk (1629-1630, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum) were influenced by Caravaggio. Also the works of Baburen, Terbrugghen and von Honthorst inspired him. The contrasts between light and shadow were stronger and his painting became lighter. In this period he started to paint self-portraits which he continued to paint throughout his career.

In 1631 he returned to Amsterdam where he was offered many important commissions, thank to art dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh. Rembrandt often used the chiaroscuro technique for the strong contrasts of lights and shadows in his portraits (Portrait of Maurits Huygens, 1632, Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Portrait if Jacob de Gheyn III, London, Dulwich College).

Among the most famous works of this period was The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632 (The Hague, Mauritshuis) where Rembrandt showed his great capacity of psychological rendering of the scene and depiction of gestures.

In 1633 he married Saskia, granddaughter of merchant Ulyenburgh, who often modeled for him and was involved in several paintings like Portrait of Saskia with Hat (1634, Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), Portrait of Saskia as Flora (1634, St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum), Rembrandt and Saskia (ca. 1635, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen).

In the 1630s’ his workshop was very active. Between 1632 and 1646 he worked on the episodes of the life of Christ for the stadtholder of northern Netherlands, Frederick Henry. He painted many religious paintings like the Holy Family (Alte Pinakothek, Munich 1634), Susanna and the Elders (1636, L’Aja, Mauritshuis) and mythological themes in large format, which were closer to the Baroque tradition.

Rembrandt became interested in art trading, but in the 1640s’ he had many economic crises and he was forced to sell his collection. Nevertheless, he continued to paint masterpieces like the Nightwatch (1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and to work on the light effects making his painting even more dense with large and lumpy brushstrokes, as can be seen in Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1644, London, National Gallery), the Adoration of the Shepherds (1646, Monaco, Alte Pinakothek), A Woman bathing in a Stream (1655, London, National Gallery) or portraits of his son Titus.

Rembrandt was also an excellent engraver. Even in his etchings he pays attention to dramatic lighting and expressive layout, which are elements he often used in his numerous self-portraits.

He died in Amsterdam in 1669.

Location Details

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The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.

In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.

The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.

The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.

During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.

In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.

Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.

For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.

The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.