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Self-Portrait, Behind a Parapet

Ferdinand Bol (Dordrecht 1616 – 1680 Amsterdam)
oil on canvas
85.5 x 71 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint, on sheet of paper along lower right: “Bol. fecit 1648”

inventory number
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Self-Portrait, Behind a Parapet.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York. (accessed December 16, 2018).

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Seated behind a parapet, his right arm resting with assured elegance on a richly patterned pillow, Ferdinand Bol commands the gaze of the viewer in this refined and fanciful self-portrait. Bol portrayed himself in the foreground of the picture plane in a three-quarter-length pose, wearing a deep red and gold-trimmed velvet cloak, thick gold chains and medallion, and a black beret topped with a long arched feather. He exudes confidence and grace, and a bit of youthful arrogance. Bol’s signature and the date of 1648 can be read on the paper he holds gingerly near the edge of the parapet. Against the muted brown background, strong contrasts of light and dark model his dignified form and reveal the varied textures of the fabric, particularly the sheen of the gold thread on his red cloak. His face is distinguished by a small moustache and goatee, while the brown curls of his hair reach his shoulders.

Bol executed this painting at the age of thirty-two, and though he already enjoyed a prosperous career in Amsterdam, the portrait’s heightened splendor and historicizing costume belonged to an imagined artistic and gentlemanly persona rather than to a contemporary reality. For this inventive mode of self-representation, Bol turned to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69) as his source of inspiration. Scholars have long noted how Bol modeled this image, as well as a number of his other self-portraits and tronies from the mid- to late 1640s, on Rembrandt’s 1640 Self-Portrait at the Age of 34 in the National Gallery, London (). Following Rembrandt’s model, Bol has here situated himself behind a balustrade, with his right arm protruding ever so slightly into the viewer’s space. His varied brushwork and use of chiaroscuro to create rich tonal contrasts also derive from Rembrandt’s prototype. Bol’s costume was similarly imaginative, combining, as it does, sixteenth-century elements, such as the doublet and beret, and contemporary elements such as the red cloak.

Rembrandt’s London Self-Portrait was an assertive statement of his aspirations and capabilities as an artist. It evoked his status and success, as well as his Italian sources of inspiration: Raphael’s Portrait of Castiglione and Titian’s Portrait of a Man. Bol would have been well aware of these associations, and by basing his self-portrait on Rembrandt’s example, he positioned himself as a protégé of his master and within the framework of his great Renaissance predecessors. While it is impossible to consider Self-Portrait, Behind a Parapet without Rembrandt’s precedent, the sophistication of this image demonstrated Bol’s keen interest in self-representation and willingness to assert his own artistic identity.

Bol both departed from and fused together Rembrandt’s models in creating this self-portrait. Large gold chains—a mark of the nobility of the painter’s profession—lie imposingly across his chest. Considering that Bol was never granted a gold chain, the inclusion of them here demonstrates his self-assurance about his abilities as a painter. In this regard, Bol’s personality may have been similar to Rembrandt’s youthful sense of self as evident in his 1629 Self-Portrait Aged 23 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (). This painting, created when Rembrandt was still in Leiden, shows the young artist similarly wearing a gold chain, although, like Bol, he was never given one by a wealthy or noble patron.

Bol was deeply invested in self-portraiture in the second half of the 1640s. In his earliest dated Self-Portrait from 1646, he depicted himself wearing a black beret, a gold-trimmed red cloak, and a thin gold chain around his neck (). He also extended his right gloved hand toward the viewer in a rhetorical gesture that activates the pictorial space. Bol further modified this portrait type in his Self-Portrait in Springfield, dated one year later. In this work, he portrayed himself behind a balustrade within a stone archway while pushing aside a gold-colored curtain. Bol appears noticeably older in the Dordrecht and Springfield works, and his facial features have changed, including a wider nose and chin and thicker moustache and goatee. These differences in physiognomy have led scholars to question the identity of the sitter in this group of self-portraits, yet they all seem to represent the artist. The Leiden Collection Self-Portrait stands out in this group in its blending of portraiture and fantasy, while sumptuously displaying Bol’s pictorial acumen. For all these reasons, this striking Self-Portrait is a fitting capstone to The Leiden Collection’s outstanding group of works by Ferdinand Bol, the largest assemblage of his paintings outside of the Hermitage.

- Lara Yeager-Crasselt
  • [Sulley & Co., London; Knoedler & Co., New York, by July 1921; Howard Young Galleries, New York, by November 1923; John Levy Galleries, New York; Knoedler & Co., New York, by March, 1949].
  • William Bass, by April 1949; [Knoedler & Co., by June 1950].
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior, Los Angeles, by June 1950.
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1955; (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 28 January 2010, no. 162 [Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc., New York]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2010.
  • San Antonio, Witte Memorial Museum, “Loan Exhibition of Paintings of the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century from M. Knoedler & Co.,” 26 October–7 November 1949, no. 2 [lent by Knoedler & Co.].
  • Dallas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, “Four Centuries of European Painting: An Exhibition of Sixty British and European Paintings from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries,” 6–31 October 1951, no. 28 [lent by Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior].
  • Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, “Rembrandt and His Pupils,” 16 November–30 December 1956, no. 2 [lent by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art].
  • La Jolla, La Jolla Museum of Art, “Dutch and Flemish Paintings of the Northern Renaissance,” 13 June–20 September 1964, no. 2 [lent by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art].
  • Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, March 2013–March 2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Mellaart, J. H. J. “Self-Portraits by Bol.” Burlington Magazine 43 (October 1923): 153–54, pl. IIC.
  • Isarlov, George. “Rembrandt et son entourage.” La Renaissance (July–September 1936): 34.
  • Loan Exhibition of Paintings of the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century from M. Knoedler & Co. Exh. cat. San Antonio, Witte Memorial Museum. San Antonio, 1949, no. 2.
  • Four Centuries of European Painting: An Exhibition of Sixty British and European Paintings from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. Exh. cat. Dallas, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Dallas, 1951, no. 28.
  • Dobrzycka, Anna. “Autoportrety Ferdinanda Bola.” Biuletyn Historii Sztuki 18, no. 3 (1956): 421, no. 7.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt and His Pupils. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art. Raleigh, 1956, no. 2.
  • Brown, Richard F. “Recent Gifts of Painting.” Los Angeles County Museum Bulletin of the Art Division 8, no. 4 (1957): 6, no. 1.
  • Van Hall, Hermine. Portretten van Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars. Amsterdam, 1963, 30, no. 8.
  • Dutch and Flemish Paintings of the Northern Renaissance. Exh. cat. La Jolla, La Jolla Museum of Art. La Jolla, 1964, no. 2.
  • Richardson, Hilary. “Bol’s ‘David’s Dying Charge to Solomon’ in the National Gallery of Ireland.” Studies 67, no. 267 (Autumn 1973): 228–29, no. 9.
  • Blankert, Albert. Ferdinand Bol (1616–1680), Rembrandt’s Pupil. Doornspijk, 1982, 67, 119, no. 63. Originally published as Ferdinand Bol, 1616–1680: een leerling van Rembrandt. The Hague, 1976.
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler in vier Bänden. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–95, 1:305, under no. 135; 5:3082, under no. 2009.
  • Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, 1986, 132, 332.
  • Schaefer, Scott, et al. European Painting and Sculpture in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1987, 19.
  • Chapman, H. Perry. Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits. Princeton, 1990, 81, 157 n. 8, no. 111.
  • Kok, Erna. “De succesvolle loopbanen van de zeventiende-eeuwse kunstenaars Govert Flinck en Ferdinand Bol.” De Zeventiende Eeuw 27, no. 2 (2011): 320, no. 9.
  • Kok, Erna. “Govert Flinck & Ferdinand Bol: zonder vrienden geen carrière.” In Culturele ondernemers in de Gouden Eeuw. Amsterdam, 2013, 58–59.
  • Kok, Erna. “Govert Flinck, Ferdinand Bol and Their Networks of Influential Clients.” In Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck Rembrandt’s Master Pupils. Edited by Norbert Middelkoop and David DeWitt, 73, fig. no. 93. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Amsterdam Museum; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Zwolle, 2017.
  • McCarthy, Alexa. “Self-Portrait, Behind a Parapet.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 72–73; 232, no. 3. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, a single piece of medium-weight, plain-weave fabric with tacking margins removed, has been lined. There is pronounced cusping along the lower edge, slight cusping along the left and right edges and none along the upper edge. The frame has an embossed “M Grieve and Co.” maker’s mark, and the stretcher and frame have Los Angeles County Museum of Art labels, but there are no wax collection seals, import stamps, stencils or inscriptions along the lining or stretcher reverse.

Although the support is stretched in a rectangular format, subtle diagonally oriented creases along the paint surface of the upper left and right corners and triangles of dark paint along both upper corners, which were toned to match the green background during conservation treatment, suggest a change in format along the upper edge. The support may originally have been slightly taller, which would have allowed more room above the plume of the figure’s hat, and the composition may originally have been painted with a shallow arch or framed with a shaped liner.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied. The paint has been smoothly applied with areas of low impasto along the details of the figure’s hat, the gold chains and medallion hanging from the figure’s neck, the pillow along the parapet, and the upturned corner of the paper that the figure holds.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint on a sheet of paper, which the figure holds along the lower right corner of the composition. The signature and date are oriented upside down facing the figure, not the viewer.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2010 and remains in a good state of preservation.

Versions and Copies

  1. After Ferdinand Bol, Self-Portrait behind a Parapet, oil on panel (oval), 83 x 66 cm, Albert Blankert, Ferdinand Bol (1616–1680), Rembrandt’s Pupil (Doornspijk, 1982), no. 63a, present whereabouts unknown.
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