Dr. Wendy Slatkin
19 November 2012
The Portrait of Marten Looten
There have been many great artists throughout the history of mankind. World famous and household names such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Picasso may be the first to come to mind. However there is one artist who perhaps surpasses the aforementioned names in terms of technical skill; a man who is incredibly proficient in the fields of painting and especially etching; a man who’s work symbolizes an entire period of art spanning the majority of the 17th century: Remrandt van Rijn. He has produced quite a large amount of paintings, many of them portraits, but one is of particular interest. The Portrait of Marten Looten is an extraordinary painting, commissioned by successful Dutch merchant Marten Looten himself in 1632. The painting is quite impressive. Using oil paint on a wooden canvas, Rembrandt created an almost unreal representation of another human being. The amount of detail put into the piece is staggering; it is incredibly lifelike. Considering how beautifully Marten is modeled, and the size of the painting (about life-sized), the viewer actually gets the feeling that they are looking at the figure through a window into the next room. The composition of the painting is more or less that of the traditional portrait style. Rembrandt placed Marten directly in the center of the painting, in front of a rather plain background, with his entire body above the waist in sight. Marten is looking directly at the viewer. His face, the most attractive feature of the painting, is placed just above the main horizontal axis, intensifying the attraction of the viewer. Rembrandt portrayed Marten as the true businessman he was; his large black hat and long black cape are symbols of his wealthy status. Marten’s hand gestures and turned head suggest movement, as if he has just turned to face the viewer. He is holding an open, previously folded piece of parchment in his left hand, most likely a letter. Looking directly at the viewer, his somewhat solemn facial expression suggests he has just received worrisome news; the outside portions of his eyebrows are slanted slightly downward, and his parted lips imply he has softly gasped in astonishment and is about to speak. His body language indicates that the viewer has just startled him; he is placing his right hand over his chest, much like someone would do if they had just been surprised. He is also turning away from the viewer, ever so slightly, but in just a way that the viewer can recognize he possesses a fearful feeling. He may actually be stepping back a bit. The whole image of Marten suggests tension. Perhaps the letter he had been reading brought an uneasy feeling upon him, and in that fragile state, the viewer unintentionally startled him. The composition of the painting is near flawless, however Marten looks a bit stiff. Perhaps if Rembrandt portrayed Marten with slightly hunched shoulders, his fear would look more believable. Then again, a dapper and wealthy man would not want to be portrayed as weak and submissive, would he? In terms of color, the majority of the portrait is monochromatic; the only noticeable color is found in the face, hands, and parchment. There are also slight hints of tan in the lower background and lower cape, however the more apparent colors of the hands and face overpower it. The entire background becomes progressively lighter in value going from the top of the composition downward. The hands and face are painted with an exquisite and believable flesh color, with the hands having a more saturated tone to them. The shadowed areas of the aforementioned body parts are much darker in value, particularly the right hand, which almost seems to disappear within the black cape. Marten’s beard is painted excellently with a light brown color, along with his eyebrows. The irises are a deep, piercing dark brown, and the ears a dark tan color. The nose and cheeks...
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