When I heard the phrase “One Hundred faces of Rembrandt,” I thought, This is a clever concept.
Over the years many have adopted this idea in marketing their passion from wars to whatever. I also wondered how I could adapt this concept to fit in one of my projects, and maybe I have already. I have worn a hundred faces, I just haven’t painted them. I have definitely been my own project.
This idea started with Rembrandt while he was just looking for a willing model to paint and he found him in the mirror. Over Rembrandt’s lifetime “he sat before himself,” and painted himself in many costumes and characters, in different ways and moments, tones and colors, always capturing the real being beneath the flesh and blood, himself.
He drew his face repeatedly, serious and smiling, with frightened eyes and whatever he was feeling at that moment. Some portraits showed him young and some old, some free and some tight, but all with the mark of Rembrandt’s soul.
Robert Henri writes in The Art Spirit, “The whole value of art rests in the artist’s ability to see well into what is before him. A model is wonderful in as many ways as there are pairs of eyes to see her. Each view of her is an original view and there is a response in her awaiting each view.
“If the eyes of a Rembrandt are upon her she will rise in response and Rembrandt will draw what he sees, and it will be beautiful. Rembrandt was a man of great understanding. He had the rare power of seeing deep into the significance of things.
“A genius is one who can see. Others can often “draw” remarkably well. Their kind of drawing, however, is not difficult. They can change about. They can make their sight fit the easiest way for their drawing. With the seer it is different. Nothing will do but the most precise statement.”
This separate eye of genius is one of the world’s most precious possessions. Rembrandt was always conscious of his own secret vision. His eye was sensitive to the faintest shadow of change passing over a man’s countenance.
After the death of his children and his wife, it is written, “From this time, while he did much remarkable work, he seemed like a man on a mountain top, looking on one side to sweet meadows filled with flowers and sunlight, and on the other to a desolate landscape over which a clouded sun is setting.” When Saskia, his wife, died, he made only one more portrait of himself, his one hundredth; and in it he made himself appear a stern and fateful man.
As I pondered this thought, “he sat before himself,” I thought it would have been wonderful to have the drawing and painting talent of Rembrandt, but greater still is to have the eye of understanding which he possessed. What if we had the eye to elevate people to a higher place, giving them a higher respect for themselves?
When he painted himself, his eyes must have drawn the best from himself or he could not have done it for others. An old saying: “You must have respect for yourself before you have respect for others.” It is true.
We all wear different disguises. But when we pull the mask from our own face and become honest, we might not like what we see, but it is the place of gaining respect for who we are. Only then we are able to see ourselves more clearly and there is where we give others a margin for error.
Most people fool themselves their entire lives trying to be someone they think they should be or who other’s think they are. Self-acquaintance is a rare condition.
Over the years, I have worn a hundred faces, but who I was in my early days seems far away from who I am today, I don’t recognize her anymore. I am coming out from behind the disguises and am enjoying and accepting who I am and consequently doing the same for others.
Oh that we would have the eyes of Rembrandt when others are in our presence, that they would rise in response, thus having the eye to see the dignity of their own soul and they would be beautiful. This is a true artist.
Final brushstroke: Self-acquaintance is a rare thing. It takes courage to remove the mask and see the beauty we really possess.
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