Friday, August 26, 2011

Writing About Photographing Rembrandt

Will we ever find an answer to the question of whether Rembrandt’s self portraits are accurate likenesses? Each of his self portraits shows a slightly different individual, just as our own successive passport photographs do. That being said, no one can shake off the feeling that Rembrandt’s personality and even his physiognomic peculiarities crystallize, as it were, when one surveys his self portraits as a group. You feel that you recognize him. It looks like him. The truth, however, will never be known.

Ernst van de Wetering

“Portrait of a Painter” by Frans Hals

Some people believe the Frans Hals painting
“Portrait of a Painter” is a portrait
of Rembrandt. They were contemporaries.
And the person in the Frans Hals portrait
resembles the way Rembrandt saw himself.
And where it doesn’t resemble Rembrandt
the variations seem consistent with
differences in the resemblances
of, say, painted self portraits of van Gogh
and photographic portraits of van Gogh.

Experts writing in “Rembrandt by Himself”
do not believe Frans Hals painted Rembrandt.

Although we will never see photographs
of Rembrandt—if photographs are the truth
then it’s true that truth never will be known—
but letters or contracts or journal notes
someday might substantiate that Rembrandt
in fact did pose for the Frans Hals portrait.
That is a truth that someday might be known.

A letter or contract or journal note
could validate the truth of a painting.

That truth is still less than a photograph.

I wonder what Rembrandt really looked like?

And: How much truth does a photograph hold?

What if we’re wrong and it’s more than we think?

I wonder what that question even means?

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