By Katherine Jacobsen
Two dark eyes peer out from delicately furrowed eyebrows, meeting the viewer’s gaze. Tufts of gray hair, subdued under a large cap, frame the face. Dashes of rouge on the man’s cheeks, chin, and nose provide the only hint of a bright color in the painting.
The face is Rembrandt van Rijn's “Self-Portrait With Beret and Turned up Collar,” painted by the artist in 1659. The unforgivingly lined face – with light wrinkles on its brow that fade into etched cheekbones – typifies the artist’s willingness to depict what he saw, rather than what he might have wished to see.
In celebration of Rembrandt’s 407th birthday, Google Doodle features the artist’s self-portrait on the search engine’s home page.
Rembrandt was born to a well-off Dutch family on July 15, 1606. In the early
1620s, Rembrandt studied at Leiden University in the Netherlands before he was apprenticed with one of the leading Dutch painters of the time, Pieter Lastman. By 1632, Rembrandt had moved
to Amsterdam and established his own studio.
The artist became known for his use of chiaroscuro – an Italian term for light and dark shading techniques – as well as his ability to add life-like characteristics to make his subjects come alive on canvas. “A painting is finished only when it has the shadows of a god,” the artist said.
The contrast between light and dark was also a motif in Rembrandt’s personal life. In 1642, the artist’s wife died, leaving him with one surviving son, Titus. Her death was followed by a tumultuous relationship with Titus’s nurse, before another woman, Rembrandt’s maid, became his lifelong companion in 1647.
During his lifetime, Rembrandt was also prone to live beyond his means, putting him in a strained cycle of debt.
In his 1659 self-portrait, Rembrandt does not shy away from realistically depicting himself. In contrast to his earlier self-portraits, Rembrandt seems more worn and wrinkled, and his stare hardened.
“Life etches itself into our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses,” Rembrandt said. A glance at Monday’s Google Doodle tells part of the artist's story, struggle, and legacy.
Rembrandt was buried in Westerkerk, Holland after his death on Oct. 4, 1669. The artist, who distinguished himself from his contemporaries by his deft brushstrokes and attention to detail, lies in an unmarked grave.
By Christel Kucharz
Passau, Germany, May 5, 2009
He's known as the tortured genius who cut off his own ear, but two German historians now claim that painter Vincent van Gogh lost his ear in a fight with his friend, the French artist Paul Gauguin.
The official version about van Gogh's legendary act of self-harm usually goes that the disturbed Dutch painter severed his left ear lobe with a razor blade in a fit of lunacy after he had a row with Gauguin one evening shortly before Christmas 1888. Bleeding heavily, van Gogh then wrapped it in cloth, walked to a nearby bordello and presented the severed ear to a prostitute, who fainted when he handed it to her. He then went home to sleep in a blood-drenched bed, where he almost bled to death, before police, alerted by the prostitute, found him the next morning. He was unconscious and immediately taken to the local hospital, where he asked to see his friend Gauguin when he woke up, but Gauguin refused to see him.
A new book, published in Germany by Hamburg-based historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, argues that Vincent van Gogh may have made up the whole story to protect his friend Gauguin, a keen fencer, who actually lopped it off with a sword during a heated argument. The historians say that the real version of events has never surfaced because the two men both kept a "pact of silence" - Gauguin to avoid prosecution and van Gogh in an effort trying to keep his friend with whom he was hopelessly infatuated.
Hans Kaufmann, one of the authors of the book "Pakt des Schweigens" - "Pact of Silence" in English - told ABC News that "the official version is largely based on Gauguin's accounts. It contains inconsistencies and there are plenty of hints by both artists that the truth is much more complex than the story we've all known."
"We carefully re-examined witness accounts and letters written by both artists and we came to the conclusion that van Gogh was terribly upset over Gauguin's plan to go back to Paris, after the two men had spent an unhappy stay together at the "Yellow House" in Arles, Southern France, which had been set up as a studio in the south."
"On the evening of December 23, 1888 van Gogh, seized by an attack of a metabolic disease, became very aggressive when Gauguin said he was leaving him for good. The men had a heated argument near the brothel and Vincent might have attacked his friend. Gauguin, wanting to defend himself and wanting to get rid of 'the madman' drew his weapon and made a move towards van Gogh and
by that he cut off his left ear."
"We do not know for sure if the blow was an accident or a deliberate attempt to injure van Gogh, but it was dark and we suspect that Gauguin did not intend to hit his friend."
Gauguin left Arles the next day and the two men never saw each other again.
In the first letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote after the incident, he told Gauguin, "I will keep quiet about this and so will you." That apparently was the beginning of the "pact of silence."
Years later, Gauguin wrote a letter to another friend and in a reference about van Gogh he said, "A man with sealed lips, I cannot complain about him."
Kaufmann also cites correspondence between van Gogh and his brother Theo, in which the painter hints at what happened that night without directly breaking the "pact of silence" - he writes that "it is lucky Gauguin does not have a machine gun or other firearms, that he is stronger than him and that his
'passions' are stronger."
"There are plenty of hints in the documents we had at our disposal that prove the self-harm version is incorrect, but to the best of my knowledge, neither of the friends ever broke the pact of silence," says Kaufmann, who suggests that the story about van Gogh's ear needs to be re-written.
Vincent van Gogh, who painted The Starry Night, Sunflowers and the Potato Eaters but also a self-portrait with his bandaged ear to name but a few, died in 1890 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 37. Gauguin died in 1903 at age 54.