Reflecting The Self: Rembrandt & Van Gogh’s Self-Portraits

Art has always been a gateway into the human soul, a medium through which artists convey their experiences, emotions, and identities. But art can also leave with us a legacy of the life and time of when and how the artist lived.

Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent Van Gogh are two significant figures who significantly contributed to the self-portraiture tradition. Their works redefine self-portraiture and give us a glimpse into their lives and the periods they lived and worked.

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Rembrandt And Van Gogh’s Self-Portraits Reflection Explored

The self-portrait, a genre fraught with introspection and self-analysis, provides profound insights into the artist’s inner world, serving as a psychological self-study and a reflection of the artist’s persona. The artists’ brushes, dipped in the palette of their unique experiences, often trace lines, forms, and colors beyond physical likeness, extending into emotional, psychological, and existential exploration realms.

Two prominent figures in art history, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent Van Gogh have leveraged the medium of self-portraiture in ways that continue to resonate and inspire.

Read on as we delve into the rich universe of Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s self-portraits, tracing these works’ impacts in reshaping artistic conventions and transforming our understanding of self-expression and identity in art. Their powerful and dynamic self-representations offer a glimpse into their lives and the times they lived in and mark significant contributions to the tradition of self-portraiture that opened the door for later artists to express themselves boldly.

Rembrandt: The Master Of Self Portraiture

Rembrandt, a prominent figure of the Dutch Golden Age, was renowned for his revolutionary approach to self-portraiture. He painted nearly 90 self-portraits, including paintings, etchings, and drawings, representing approximately one-tenth of his art collection.


His candid portrayals of aging and self-exploration have set the stage for artists’ self-examination and expression.

Rembrandt’s self-portraits trace the progression of his life from his early youth to his later years. They reveal his introspective nature and the transformation of his technique over time.

His self-portraits also serve as records of his physical appearance, showcasing his aging process with an unflinching honesty uncommon in his era.

Self-Portrait – c. 1659, National Gallery of Art, Washington By Rembrandt

His self-portraits served multiple purposes. They showcased his skills as an artist, acted as promotional tools, and were reflective and introspective pieces through which Rembrandt explored and expressed his identity.

His impact on the art world has been immeasurable, paving the way for countless artists to use self-portraiture as a form of self-expression.

Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul – c. 1661, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam By Rembrandt

To see many of his most essential self-portraits, read our blog, The Self-Portraits Of Rembrandt In Order, by clicking here.

Van Gogh: Turning Inward In Art

In comparison, Van Gogh’s self-portraiture carries a different form of intensity. His works were concentrated in a short but productive 10-year career. During this time, Van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits, most within the last years of his life.

Vincent Van Gogh, 1853 – 1890

Van Gogh’s self-portraits are potent reflections of his mental state, showcasing his struggles with mental health.

Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear (1889) By Vincent Van Gogh

His painting “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” is a striking instance of this, depicting his self-mutilation. It’s not simply a self-portrait but a document of his suffering. Van Gogh was an artist who didn’t shy away from showing his emotional turmoil through his work, influencing artists to treat self-portraiture as a conduit for emotional exploration.

Why Artists Paint Self Portraits: 15 Reasons

Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s compelling self-portraits have inspired generations, underlining why artists might choose to portray themselves.

Here are 15 reasons artists may decide to paint a self-portrait:


Self-portraits offer an opportunity for introspection, allowing artists to delve into their identities and explore their emotions, as Rembrandt and Van Gogh exemplify.

Technical Skill

Self-portraiture can showcase an artist’s abilities, demonstrating their mastery over technique, composition, and use of color.


Artists are always available as subjects, enabling spontaneous creation without a model.

Cost Efficiency

Unlike hiring models, painting oneself is cost-effective and allows unlimited time to study and paint.

Emotional Catharsis

As seen in Van Gogh’s works, self-portraits can serve as a medium to express and process personal struggles and emotions.


Artists can use self-portraits to promote themselves and their work, acting as a kind of visual CV.

Historical Record

Like Rembrandt’s self-portraits, they can be a visual timeline of the artist’s life, documenting changes in physical appearance, style evolution, and life experiences.

Symbolism And Allegory

Artists may use self-portraits to portray specific ideas, beliefs, or allegories. Symbolic elements can add depth and layered meanings to the work.


Self-portraits provide a safe canvas for experimenting with new techniques, styles, or concepts without external pressure.

Therapeutic Purpose

Art can be therapeutic. Self-portraits can help artists understand their mental state, helping them cope with stress, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

Cultural Commentary

Through self-portraits, artists can comment on cultural norms, societal issues, and expectations related to identity, beauty, or status.

Personal Narrative

Self-portraits can tell the artist’s story, share experiences, or express viewpoints that might otherwise remain unheard.

Autobiographical Intent

Some artists might use self-portraiture as an autobiography, creating works that chronicle their lives.

Gender And Identity Exploration

Self-portraits can allow artists to explore and express their gender identity and sexuality.

Legacy Creation

Artists may paint self-portraits to create a lasting legacy, ensuring their image endures beyond their lifetime.

Influence And Legacy Of Rembrandt And Van Gogh’s Self-Portraits

Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s self-portraits continue to influence and inspire artists worldwide, serving as a testament to the power of self-expression through art. They have proved that self-portraits can be much more than just a reflection of physical appearance; they can act as windows into the artist’s soul, offering insights into their personal lives, emotional states, and historical context.

Rembrandt’s unprecedented self-documentation over time has transformed self-portraiture into a dynamic and evolving genre. Meanwhile, Van Gogh’s emotional honesty in his self-portraits inspires artists to use this medium for personal expression and catharsis.

The self-portraits of Rembrandt and Van Gogh underscore the diverse purposes and meanings that self-portraiture can embody. They serve as mirrors reflecting the artists themselves and as prisms refracting broader cultural, social, and personal themes.

The legacy of these artists’ self-portraits is an enduring testament to the power of art as a means of self-discovery and expression.

Anita Louise Art is dedicated to art education, great artists, and inspiring others to find and create their art. We love art that uplifts and inspires. #ArtToMakeYouSmile! #ArtToMakeYouHappy!

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How Did Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings Become Famous?

Vincent van Gogh’s painting became famous because his sister-in-law took her upon herself after his death and the death of her husband, Theo, to find a way to get his paintings and names out to the world. She was brilliant and savvy in how she did this. By the time she died in 1925, Vicent van Gogh was world-renowned.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading What Was The Impact Of VinHow Did Vincent van Gogh’s Paintings Become Famous?

Why Is Van Gogh Considered Such a Great Artist?

Many things make Vincent Van Gogh unique and great as an artist. He had a great way to use color in his heart, but more than that, he was an artist who set and paved the way, and his brushstroke technique used color and his design ability. What is interesting is that he did this as a self-taught artist.

By clicking here, you can discover more by about Why Is Van Gogh Considered Such a Great Artist?

How Much Is Van Gogh’s Starry Night Worth?

Van Gogh used color, form, and emotions in his art. He had a bright palette that was individualized for his time. Even though he did not see a lot of success during his life after he died, the impact of his art can be seen in both the Expressionism and Fauvism movements that were taking place in Europe.

By clicking here, you can learn more by reading How Much Is Van Gogh’s Starry Night Worth? And Other Facts.