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Bergmann, M. (2006). A Psychoanalytic Study of Rembrandt's Self-Portraits. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(6):977-990.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(6):977-990

A Psychoanalytic Study of Rembrandt's Self-Portraits

Maria Bergmann and Martin Bergmann

We recall Paul Federn, who knew Freud personally and was our teacher, quoting Freud: “When you think of me think of Rembrandt, a little light and a great deal of darkness.” Our study attempts to link the two. Shakespeare and Rembrandt are only one generation apart. Both contributed to humanity's capacity to turn our gaze inward; obtaining license from Freud's “family romance” fantasies we claim both as ancestors of psychoanalysis. In spite of what Freud said, the psychoanalytic literature on Rembrandt is sparse. This may well be due to the fact that so little is known of Rembrandt's biography, but since the same holds true about Shakespeare, we conclude that it is easier for psychoanalysts to obtain data from written words than to read works of art. In this paper we attempt to redress some of this imbalance.

The portrait, including the self-portrait, is a latecomer in the history of art. Idealization and monumentalization have taken place earlier. In Greek art, no portrait survived, and in Egyptian art, only the heretic Pharaoh Aknathon has preserved his likeness for posterity. Otherwise, the statue and the actual features of the Pharaoh were of no interest to the builders of Egyptian monuments. However, when Rembrandt came along in the seventeenth century, the art of portraiture at the hands of Raphael, Dürer, Titian, and others had reached a high degree of perfection.

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