Jan Lievens (1607-74), Self-Portrait, c. 1635

Jan Lievens (1607-74), Self-Portrait, c. 1635. Oil on wood. 52 x 40.5 cm. KMSsp413.
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Lievens painted this life-sized portrait of himself in profile, his face exuding a meditative calm. But how can a painter paint himself viewed from the side? Perhaps this was made possible by an ingenious arrangement of multiple mirrors. And why paint himself lit from behind so that the face itself is in shadow? 

The melancholy artist
The white areas have been painted using thick layers of paint, creating an uneven surface that catches and reflects the light in a shimmering way. By contrast, the rest of the painting uses a succession of thin, smooth layers; when the painting is viewed from a distance and in the right light, the contrast between light and shadow is accentuated. In Lievens’s and Rembrandt’s day the myth of the melancholy artist was in fashion. The shadow across Lievens’s face may refer to this myth, telling us that this was how Lievens wanted the world to see him.

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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