Dutch Self-Portraits

Selfies of the Golden Age

From 8 October 2015 through 3 January 2016, the Mauritshuis exhibits twenty-seven outstanding examples of self-portraits from the peak of Dutch painting, in the exhibition Dutch Self-Portraits - Selfies of the Golden Age.

The Dutch self-portrait

Many seventeenth-century Dutch artists have painted self-portraits, more so than in any other time or place. Some of these painters were specialists in the area, others created only one extant self-portrait. The variation amongst the works was considerable, but palette and paintbrushes were the most common attributes.

The large number of self-portraits created can be linked to the increase in painting production at the time. The competition was fierce, so painters needed to generate a prominent position in the market. The self-portrait lent the artist and his or her work a 'face'. The self-portrait was, therefore, not only a portrait of the painter, but often also a statement about his or her work.

Tentoonstellingen Hollandse Zelfprotretten Selfies Uit De Gouden Eeuw
Huygh Pietersz Voskuyl, Self-Portrait, ca. 1638. MauritshuisHuygh Pietersz Voskuyl, Self-Portrait, ca. 1638. Mauritshuis

Selfies of the Golden Age

Today self-portraits are extremely popular, partly thanks to the modern 'selfie'. Everyone can make a self-portrait using a smartphone, and then quickly share it with friends and acquaintances. This means that millions of people actually often think about how they want to present themselves to others.

Seventeenth-century self-portraits, might seem to encourage comparisons with the modern selfie, but there are many differences. Whereas the modern selfie can be taken easily, sometimes even carelessly, painting a self-portrait in the seventeenth century required a long training and considerable craftsmanship.

Artists expended considerable effort on their self-portraits. They are portraits painted with considerable skill, in which the painter showed how he or she wanted to appear to the world. A self-portrait could also serve as an example of the painter's specific abilities, not only his or her talent in achieving an accurate resemblance, but also of the skills required, for instance in the field of representing fabric. The self-portrait was, as it were, a business card for the painter.