2019 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the outstanding artist Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 – 1669). In this anniversary year, the Graphic Collection and the Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna are presenting a showcase exhibition of Rembrandt’s portraits, in particular those with age and ageing as a theme. Rembrandt’s view of the human body departed radically from the ideal of beauty in the art academies of his day. Like no other artist of his era, in new variations down the years he repeatedly recorded his own process of ageing for posterity, engraving as it were his ›lifelines‹ in the printing plates. Yet quite aside from his self-portraits, his oeuvre of prints has an exceptional number of works exploring age and its attributes, from physical frailty to social marginalization. In his unadorned and authentic studies of old faces and bodies, of cripples and beggars, he shows the downside of the ›Golden Age‹ in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Rembrandt’s Portrait of an Unknown Young Woman, painted in his early days in Amsterdam, is exemplary of a display portrait for the new prosperous urban classes.
The exhibition is showing a selection of 37 prints from the Graphic Collection’s total of around 170 original Rembrandt etchings. His figural and physiognomic studies are also an expression of his strong interest in the portrait form. In contrast to paintings in seventeenth-century Holland, affordable etchings of ›character heads‹ appealed to middle-class col-lectors as edifying and to other artists as welcome objects of study. Rembrandt too varied, time and again, both his own models and those from other artists, and reused them in other contexts.This exhibition also illustrates how Rembrandt’s technique revolutionized printmaking. The first artist to exploit the medium creatively, he reworked his printing plates and experimented with hatching, etching techniques and fine color graduations. In this way, he enabled the beholder to follow the com-positional process – one reason for today’s continuing fascination with Rembrandt’s visual language, which at times seems so surprisingly ›modern‹.
The Graphic Collection of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna is showing a cross-section of works from (self-) portraits to genre scenes and biblical histories – the latter represented by such masterpieces of the art of printing as the Hundred Guilder Print (ca. 1643 –1649) and Saint Jerome in an Italian Landscape (1654).
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue in German and English