A rare chance to see this Rembrandt self-portrait, up close and personal

A detail of Rembrandt's "Self Portrait at the Age of 34," painted in 1640, is on display in the U.S. for the first time. It's at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, on loan from the National Gallery in London.
(The National Gallery, London)

Rembrandt van Rijn painted, etched or drew about 100 self-portraits in his life. One of the most captivating, “Self Portrait at the Age of 34,” is on display for the first time in the U.S. at the Norton Simon Museum, a loan from the National Gallery in London that captures the artist at the peak of his fame.

Look carefully, and a plethora of details begin to emerge from the 1640 painting.

Rembrandt self-portrait at the Norton Simon
Rembrandt's "Self Portrait at the Age of 34," 1640. Oil on canvas, 102 centimeters by 80 centimeters. Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging

“The first thing you notice is how opulently dressed he is,” Norton Simon curator Gloria Williams Sander said. The painter was known to experiment with different personas, and here he wears a tabard, a long, sleeveless coat with a beautiful fur-lined velvet panel along the neckline. The brown and gold-striped silk sleeves carry a sheen. “It’s very capacious,” Williams Sander said.

Layered underneath is a jerkin, a close-fitting jacket, with a red horizontal brocade and doublet. A vest peaks out with a high embroidered collar accenting a ruched linen shirt. Instead of a beret, he wears an exuberant hat with a scalloped gold border.

The influence of the Italian masters, particularly Raphael’s portrait of courtier Baldassare Castiglione painted in the prior century, is apparent. “There’s a strong resemblance to the scalloped hat, turn of the body and huge opulent sleeves,” Williams Sander said.

Rembrandt began signing his paintings with his first name only, like the Italians did. In the bottom right corner, one can faintly make out the Dutch painter’s large signature followed by “f”, short for fecit, a Latin notation for identifying the creator.

A photograph of Rembrandt's
Rembrandt's signature on his "Self Portrait at the Age of 34." The National Gallery, London

Ultimately the dark palette of charcoal grays, reds and ochres yields to white and vermilion in the face and hands.

“The light, fluffy way he depicted his hair and mustache with a little tuft under his lips adds a bit of drama by focusing attention on his face,” Williams Sander said. Here his gaze is unflinching, direct and full of confidence.

A photograph of Rembrandt's
The details in his hair and mustache accentuate's Rembrandt's direct gaze in this detail from his "Self Portrait at the Age of 34." The National Gallery, London

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‘Self Portrait at the Age of 34’

Where: Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

When: through March 5; closed Tuesdays

Admission: $12-$15; free for ages 18 and younger

Information: (626) 449-6840,

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