In Rembrandt’s famous self-portrait, Self Portrait at the Easel , the artist stands before his easel, maulstick and pallet in hand. He is taking a moment from his intensive labor to reflect upon his work and to collect his thoughts before continuing. His hands are at ease but posed in such a way that suggests they are ready to begin painting again. He is faced towards the viewer but his facial expression and gaze do not connect with his audience, instead giving the audience a feeling of a relaxed moment of inward reflection. “Self Portrait at the Easel” has, not one, but many different intended meanings left by Rembrandt.
Self Portrait at the Easel, painted in 1660, was one of Rembrandt’s last portraits before his death in 1669. At this stage in his life Rembrandt was suffering, both personally and professionally. He had suffered the losses of three infant children and his first wife, Saskia van Uylenburch. Rembrandt had also filed for bankruptcy, as he had previously had an extravagant lifestyle, living well above his means. This period in Rembrandt's painting reflects this suffering. He is more inwardly reflective and pensive in his self-portraits, with much of the life from his earlier works gone. In fact, over the years, Rembrandt’s self portraits increasingly became a means for gaining self-knowledge, and in the end took the form of an interior dialogue: a lonely old man communicating with himself while he painted .
Rembrandt painted a great many self-portraits in this 'tronie' style. This let him solidify his fame in the 17th century art world. Everyone from the aristocratic upper class to the lower middle class burghers could own a painting or a print of Rembrandt’s image created in his signature style. In many ways, his genre painting gave Rembrandt a license to experiment with his techniques and compositional elements, while still maintaining a lucrative trade.
Rembrandt was fascinated by the way facial expression could add drama to a piece. These paintings allowed him modelled many different types of facial expressions in his vast collection of self-portraits, with particular focus on perfecting each one. However it was evident that he always intended to sell these pieces, as when his paintings were auctioned off to pay his debts, not one was found amongst his possessions.