Tag Archives: History Paintings

#FineArtFriday: History Painting, Titus (with self portrait of Rembrandt) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 1626

History Painting, Titus (with self portrait of Rembrandt) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 1626

  • Artist: Rembrandt  (1606–1669) Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
  • Title: Historical Scene.
  • Inscriptions: Monogram and date bottom right: RH 16[2]6
  • Object type: painting
  • Genre: history painting
  • Depicted people: Titus
  • Date: 1626
  • Medium: oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions: Height: 89.8 cm (35.3 in); Width: 121 cm (47.6 in)
  • Collection:   Museum De Lakenhal

What I love about this Painting:

This is one of Rembrandt’s earliest history paintings. The young artist went all out to compose and execute this painting. He scoured the city for props, and found old armor and weapons. Then he dressed the players richly in the finest garments of his own day, so as to befit a beloved and respected emperor.

Wikipedia says: Rembrandt’s portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits, and illustrations of scenes from the Bible are regarded as his greatest creative triumphs. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.

The level of detail in the weaponry and richly worked garments is remarkable, as are the faces and features of each of the players. Emperor Titus is portrayed as slightly larger than life, noble, wise, and kind.

In the background, hidden by the scepter, we find Rembrandt himself, the witness who happened to come upon the scene and is looking on with wonder. Of the witnesses, he alone is shown dressed in the unadorned muted gray woolen clothing of a common man.

We know Rembrandt was well educated in history, and admired the Emperor Titus greatly, as he named his only surviving son after him.

About the Roman Emperor Titus, the Subject of this Painting (via Wikipedia):

Vespasian died of an infection on 23 June 79 AD, and was immediately succeeded by his son Titus. As Pharaoh of Egypt, Titus adopted the titulary Autokrator Titos Kaisaros Hununefer Benermerut (“Emperor Titus Caesar, the perfect and popular youth”). Because of his many (alleged) vices, many Romans feared that he would be another Nero. Against these expectations, however, Titus proved to be an effective Emperor and was well loved by the population, who praised him highly when they found that he possessed the greatest virtues instead of vices.

One of his first acts as Emperor was to order a halt to trials based on treason charges, which had long plagued the principate. The law of treason, or law of majestas, was originally intended to prosecute those who had corruptly “impaired the people and majesty of Rome” by any revolutionary action. Under Augustus, however, this custom had been revived and applied to cover slander and libel as well. This led to numerous trials and executions under TiberiusCaligula, and Nero, and the formation of networks of informers (Delators), which terrorized Rome’s political system for decades.

Titus put an end to this practice, against himself or anyone else, declaring:

“It is impossible for me to be insulted or abused in any way. For I do naught that deserves censure, and I care not for what is reported falsely. As for the emperors who are dead and gone, they will avenge themselves in case anyone does them a wrong, if in very truth they are demigods and possess any power.”

Consequently, no senators were put to death during his reign; he thus kept to his promise that he would assume the office of Pontifex Maximus “for the purpose of keeping his hands unstained.” The informants were publicly punished and banished from the city. Titus further prevented abuses by making it unlawful for a person to be tried under different laws for the same offense.  Finally, when Berenice returned to Rome, he sent her away.

As Emperor he became known for his generosity, and Suetonius states that upon realizing he had brought no benefit to anyone during a whole day, Titus remarked, “Friends, I have lost a day.”


Credits and Attributions:

History Painting, Titus (with self portrait of Rembrandt) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 1626

Wikipedia contributors, “Titus,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Titus&oldid=950453618 (accessed April 24, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt Historical Painting 1626 (Detail, with self-portrait).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_Historical_Painting_1626_(Detail,_with_self-portrait).jpg&oldid=369318658 (accessed April 24, 2020).

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