Portrait of a Scholar (1631)

Rembrandt (1606-1669)

Portrait of a Scholar
Oil on canvas, 104.5 x 92 cm
Hermitage MuseumSaint Petersburg

In the first decade of his life in Amsterdam, to which the young Rembrandt moved from Leiden in 1631, he gained initial fame as a portrait painter. The man depicted in the Hermitage portrait is no sitter posing for the artist: his head turned as if distracted from his work for just a moment, the scholar looks out at the viewer with slightly confused eyes. The hand with its silver pencil has frozen briefly, while the other holds a large folio. Rembrandt pays great attention to the texture of the thick tablecloth, the heavy bindings of the books. We are amazed by the skill with which the young artist paints the tired, swollen hands of the old scholar, with light, short strokes creating the effect of fine, dry, yellowish skin. The large figure in the dark is set off softly by the greyish-green background; he is surrounded by unbroken silence, his work interrupted for just this one second. The man’s inner concentration, his total immersion in his work were well understood by Rembrandt, whose works reveal a great interest in the image of the philosopher, the scholar, the calligrapher. Here we see the first of a series of works in which the artist was to concentrate on the spiritual world of his sitters. (SHM)