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A Young Man, perhaps the Artist's Son Titus

Emerging from the inky darkness of the background, a young man turns to meet the gaze of the viewer with a pensive expression. The left-hand side of the sitter’s face, which is boldly illuminated, pushes forwards from the shadows, towards the beholder. These strong lighting effects known as chiaroscuro (literally ‘light-dark’ in Italian) give this sitter a sense of immediacy and three-dimensional presence. This enigmatic portrait was highly esteemed by one visitor to the Gallery in 1824, who commented that ‘it is one of those portraits of which it is common to say – ‘that must be a likeness’’. In fact, despite the compelling psychological presence of this sitter, the question of who this portrait represents – and who it is by – has long been debated.

Recent scholarly opinion has favoured the attribution of this portrait to the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69). The broad brushstrokes and impasto paint (a process of thickly layering paint with a brush or palette knife so that the strokes are visible) indicates that this portrait is from his late style of the 1660s. The sitter has been identified as Rembrandt’s only son Titus, though the presence of the books – faintly discernible in the background – makes it more likely that this is a portrait of a scholar. While the head is in good condition, the rest of the figure – particularly the coat – has been abraded during this painting’s earlier history. 

Currently on display

Rembrandt van Rijn
Gallery 5
78.6 x 64.2 cm
Oil on canvas
Said to be signed and dated: R[...] f[...]63
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number