The mystery of creation — it is the secret of the craftsmanship of a painter, composer or poet. Above all, it’s the ability of the artist to bring to a work of art the very enigma of the soul.
This is easily seen in the works of Rembrandt. This mysterious quality is seen in all of his sixty self-portraits. In every one of them is an imprint of his “temporal” self, where we can see a psychological picture of the master’s different ages.
In the Dutch Gallery of the Norton Simon Museum, the self-portrait of the mature Rembrandt is hung across from his son Titus’ portrait. It seems as if they are talking with one another. What do they want to say to each other centuries later?
While gazing into the tender, childish golden-haired face of Titus, I cannot tear myself away from his large, dreamy eyes. Surely, he is yet a child, but his glance shows a contemplative mood that seems beyond his years. The golden brown of his hair, the dull red of his cap build up a pleasing harmony of colors. But the main peculiarity is his striking resemblance to his father. His face is proportioned much like his father’s. Titus inherited his father’s broad nose though his expressive dark eyes and his clearly marked eyebrows are his own. The child’s hair is chestnut brown, falling in heavy locks; it shines in the portrait with golden highlight tints.
In life, Titus was the embodiment of Rembrandt’s creative urge. The master used Titus’ image in the many Biblical scenes of his work, where Titus appears again and again as the young Christ, as Tobias, Daniel or the young Joseph. As the only surviving child of Rembrandt’s first love, Saskia, Titus had a natural mark as the fruit of his father’s affection, and the portraits of him seemed to represent a boy of lovable nature.
So, then, this cherubic child of this particular portrait is both Rembrandt’s son, and yet seems to embody someone else. And who is that “second” Titus in whose sorrowful glance radiates something non-infantile, anxious, and full of alarmed misgivings of his premature death. Was it the child’s own premonition, or his father’s foreboding that emanates from that gaze?
Or, possibly, it is the artist’s own golden dream of his childhood? The master’s dark and light aren’t in conflict here and provide emphasis on Titus’ spiritual essence. This combination of light and dark allows psychological substantiation of the supposition about self-identification of the inner Rembrandt. It seems that this “meditation” of Titus helped the artist to create a new version of self. In effect, he appears to have “overturned” himself from adult to child in order to see in the angelic face of his son, his own karmic destiny.
Or, perhaps, the master intended to show in Titus’ portrait the agonizing suspense of the tragedy of his own final decade, the impending alienation from society, his moral and financial collapse, the loss of his great love, and finally the death of Titus before his own demise.
The portrait implies a clairvoyant vision.
Only divination is possible about the past. Austrian psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud was possibly right when he wrote about the narcissistic nature of the artist. Titus’ image is apprehended as a kind of phantom of Rembrandt’s spirit that culminates the best elements of the master’s inner self.
If it’s not the case, why then is Titus’ face so “transparent?” Can I take the liberty of divination about Rembrandt, whose return to the “infant” Titus, underscores his desire to meet with his own childhood, to ascend to the higher spheres?
Did not hthe other contemporary of Rembrandt, British poet Henry Vaughan, dream the same when he wrote: Happy those early days!/When I shine in my angel infancy.
…Once again, I transfer my glance from the ethereal, non-terrestrial face of Titus to the self-portrait of the mature van Rijn on the opposite wall of the Gallery. And it seems the riddle oozes out. Titus is obviously a diminutive, ethereal self of the master, his golden dream about his far past and heavy anticipation of his own impending tragedy.