With a posture and expression that exude status and youthful self-confidence, Govaert Flinck painted himself in 1643, at age twenty-eight, facing slightly to the right with his right arm leaning on a brown ledge and his eyes directed straight at the viewer. He wears a gold-trimmed velvet mantle over a low-cut jerkin, and a white, high-collared vest whose frilled edges are visible below his neck and at his wrist. His shoulder-length, ginger-colored hair flows out from under his velvet beret. Around his neck, partially concealed by his mantle, hangs a chain.
Flinck’s assuredness of execution is comparable to that of his appearance. He modeled the face with bold, patchy brushstrokes, while accenting his proper right cheek and the rim of his nose with pink highlights. He provided a warm, rich tone for the hair, the moustache, and the area around his proper left eye by allowing the ocher-colored ground to remain exposed. Flinck executed the brocaded trim of his mantle with bravura, generously dappling the upper right shoulder with yellow and white highlights, while merely outlining the shaded areas of trim in yellow, with only an occasional additional highlight (fig 1).
At the time Flinck executed this painting, he had been an independent artist for about eight years and already had enjoyed considerable success as a portrait painter in Amsterdam. In contrast to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), with whom he had studied around 1634–35, Flinck painted only two autonomous self-portraits in his career: this one and one dated 1639 in the National Gallery, London.1 He also drew his self-portrait in 1643 (fig 2).2 As scholars have frequently noted, Flinck based his compelling 1643 Self-Portrait on two of Rembrandt’s self-portraits: his etched Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill of 1639 (fig 3) and his painted 1640 Self-Portrait at the Age of 34 at the National Gallery, London (fig 4).3 Rembrandt’s iconic and highly innovative self-portraits, which also inspired several self-portraits by other Rembrandt students, show him leaning on a wall with one arm and looking directly at the viewer.4 In creating these works, Rembrandt drew inspiration from Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione of ca. 1514–15 and Titian’s Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo of ca. 1510, both of which were in Amsterdam in 1639 in the collection of Alfonzo Lopez.5 Nevertheless, in each instance, Rembrandt portrayed himself in fanciful early sixteenth-century Northern European fashion, known to him through the prints by Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533) and Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), among others.6 Rembrandt thus firmly placed himself in a tradition of great local and international artists. As a newly established painter, Flinck was no doubt drawn to his master’s models for their bold self-representation.
Flinck based the diagonal slant of his beret on Rembrandt’s etched self-portrait, but, following Rembrandt’s painting, he positioned himself facing right. As in the master’s self-portraits, Flinck portrayed himself wearing a shirt with conspicuous frills and a jerkin, both which reflect early sixteenth-century fashion.7 Unlike Rembrandt, however, he did not depict himself wearing a cross hanging from the gold chain around his neck. Such a cross would have been anathema to Flinck who, in the early 1640s, had important contacts among the Amsterdam Anabaptist elite. He would later become a member of the Remonstrant community.8
When the painting was auctioned at Christie’s in London in 1943, it was presented with a presumed pendant, which was separated after the auction, and emerged from a private Munich collection in 2015 (fig 5).9 The pair was attributed to Rembrandt, one thought to be a self-portrait and the other a portrait of his wife, Saskia.10 After the 1943 auction, Flinck’s signature was discovered on the present painting during a conservation treatment, and in 1953 it was exhibited in London as a Portrait of Rembrandt by Flinck.11 In 1980 Bas Dudok van Heel recognized Flinck’s likeness by comparing the image to the artist’s self-portrait in his 1648 group portrait Civic Guardsmen of the Company of Captain Joan Huydecoper and Lieutenant Frans van Waveren.12 He also identified the female sitter in the presumed pendant as Flinck’s wife, Ingetje Thovelingh (ca. 1620–51), whom the artist married in 1645. Since the female portrait is no longer considered to be an intended pendant of the present painting, the identification of Flinck’s wife no longer seems plausible.13
The painting today looks quite different than it did in 1985, when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s in London.14 At that time Flinck’s mantle and beret were black. When the painting was restored in 1986–87, the uppermost black layer was determined to be a later addition and it was removed, leaving the burgundy undermodeling over a freely executed black sketch that is visible today.15 Subsequently, when Dutch conservator Peter Hermesdorf examined the painting in 1988, he concluded that the mantle and beret were “unfinished.”16 However, since the brocade, which lies on top of the mantle, is quite finished in appearance, and since traces of black paint are visible under the brocade, it seems unlikely that the painting is unfinished. This conclusion is further reinforced by the finished state of the face and hair. Hence, it is quite likely that the mantle and beret were originally black, and that this paint layer was removed at some earlier date.17
Many questions also surround the character of the painting’s panel support, which consists of four planks of Baltic oak, three vertically grained planks and one horizontally grained plank across the bottom of the painting (fig 6). A fundamental question, which has not been satisfactorily resolved, is whether the bottom, horizontal plank, which extends the parapet on which the sitter’s arm rests, was original to Flinck’s composition or added later. A copy of the painting, which was with the London art dealer Ronald Cook in the mid-1970s, and which depicts the sitter with a black beret and black mantle, does not include this lower portion of the painting (fig 7).18 This fact, along with some technical evidence, seems to suggest that the horizontal plank was not part of the original panel construction.19 On the other hand, the signature and date, which are on this lower portion of the painting, appear to be old and are consistent with those on Flinck’s 1643 drawing Self-Portrait in Uniform (see (fig 2)).
Another question about the panel support concerns its arched top. The copy of the painting has a rectangular format, which was also the original format of the Rembrandt self-portraits that inspired Flinck when making this work.20 Hence, it seems probable that the arched top was a later revision to the painting. At the time the painting’s shape was changed, the background was apparently overpainted.21 The current greenish layer, which covers a more freely brushed background paint, extends over the curved upper edge of the panel.22
Regardless of the painting’s complex and confusing display of various paint stages and later additions, the areas around Flinck’s face, shirt, and brocaded trim demonstrate his impressive abilities as an artist. Moreover, the lush, fluid undermodeling in the beret and mantle provide a unique insight into his painting practice.