Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Self-Portrait, about 1636–38. The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena, California.
A portrait is typically understood to be a faithful reproduction of a person’s likeness. Rembrandt complicated the genre, constructing identities through props, lighting, and ambiguous settings—leaving us to ask, “What is a portrait?” This spring, two portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn are visiting the Art Institute from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. The paintings, Portrait of a Boy and Self-Portrait, join the Art Institute’s own Old Man with a Gold Chain and Young Woman at an Open Half-Door for a look at Rembrandt’s approach to portraiture—one that is decidedly more complex than it may first appear.