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Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Titus, the Artist's Son
circa 1657
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Titus (1641-68) was the only one of Rembrandt’s four children with his first wife, Saskia, to survive infancy. He was 16 when this portrait was painted yet, rather than creating an image of a carefree teenager, Rembrandt has shown him as a serious young man.

Titus stares directly at us, while the background and lighting further concentrate our attention upon the young man’s compelling gaze. It is dark and there is light falling across the right-hand-side of his face. He is wearing a red hat and a rough, brown cloak with a gold chain, which seem to be historical robes. Is he meant to represent an historical figure, is he dressed up to play a part or is he meant to be just Titus, the artist's son? The composition is simple: a quiet drama is created by the light falling on the young man's face which almost seems to be coming from inside him rather than from an external source.

The costume in which Titus has been portrayed hints at a narrative beyond the painting which tempts us to invest the portrait with a significance deeper than that of a mere likeness of a single individual.

What roles do you think Titus might be playing here? From his expression, what might he be thinking? What is his life like? Why does he look so serious? Pupils could create stories around this enigmatic figure.
Many art historians and critics establish connections between events in the artists’ and sitters’ lives and their portraits. Do you think it important to know the artists’ and sitters’ biographies to interpret portraits? Does it help to know that their portrait was painted in the year following Rembrandt’s bankruptcy and that Titus was in charge of his father’s business?

Rembrandt had a very particular way of creating his images: he painted from dark to light, adding the highlights last. This heavy use of impasto (the areas of thickly-applied paint) adds texture to the paint surface, giving a feeling of immediacy and spontaneity which belies this careful execution. The restricted palette, dominated by brown and dark red, and the sharp contrasts of light and shade (‘chiaroscuro’), add to the sense of intensity and drama.

Rembrandt (1606-1669) was one of the leading painters in Amsterdam in the 17th century and is famous today for his intimate portraits which give an illusion of psychological connection between viewer and sitter. He painted portraits on commission, as well as history paintings, landscapes and etchings and ran a highly successful studio. His life was one of ups and downs, featuring great success, allowing him to spend large sums on his art collection, while later falling into debt and bankruptcy following financial tussles with his mistress. One thing that did not suffer however was his reputation and his portrait commissions seemed to have been unaffected.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)  Titus, the Artist's Son   circa 1657
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 68 x 57 cm
Wallace Collection (P29)
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