REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)

Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul

Oil on canvas, 91 x 77 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Catalogue number: Bredius 59.

In this self-portrait of 1661 Rembrandt endeavoured to convey the emotion of the writer who desires to hearten the recipients of his epistles but is himself imprisoned and knows he will die by the sword.

The figure is identified as St Paul by the hilt of a sword (his traditional attribute) appearing in the opening of his coat. A book or, as here, a sheaf of papers, symbolizing the word of God, is also usually associated with St Paul. It was comparatively rare for artists to depict themselves as saints; it might be considered to smack of pride. This is not to imply that Rembrandt glorifies himself in the present instance. On the contrary, the mood of his Self-Portrait as St Paul is sombre in the extreme, and in this respect it is like the majority of the religious paintings and etchings of his late period.