(b. 1622, Middenbeemster, d. 1654, Delft)


c. 1645
Oil on panel, 65 x 49 cm
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Carel Fabritius was Rembrandt's most outstanding pupil: he was a brilliant and experimental artist whose prodigious reputation rests on a handful of surviving paintings. Born in the village of Midden-Beemster and trained by his father, an amateur artist, Fabritius was in Rembrandt's Amsterdam studio in the years around 1640. His earliest known painting, The Raising of Lazarus reveals Fabritius's careful study of his master's The Night Watch, completed in 1642.

This proto-romantic self-portrait, in which the artist shows himself with long, tousled hair, opennecked shirt and working smock against a background of crumbling plasterwork, probably dates from shortly after The Raising of Lazarus. There was perhaps a sense in which the choice of this dress had a special significance for Fabritius. The Latin word faber, from which Carel's father had taken the cognomen Fabritius, means workman, and the painter's pose and dress in this portrait may have been intended as an allusion to his name. Compositionally, the most striking feature is the daring placing of the head so far down on the panel, giving a greater than usual emphasis to the part of the picture that is occupied by the peeling plaster wall, and allowing Fabritius to explore effects of texture and shadow. It is a measure of Carel's extraordinary imaginative gifts that he could dispense in this way with the conventional centrality of the sitter's head in a bust portrait.

Fabritius was to move to Delft in 1650 but died four years later in the explosion of the municipal powder magazine in the town, a premature end to a remarkable career.