Over time, of course, Rembrandt would grow into his stature as an innovative and successful painter. Certainly, it’s a self-assured artist who features in two self-portraits from late in Rembrandt’s life. Self-Portrait with easel (1660) and Self Portrait with Two Circles (1665–69) both show Rembrandt as an older man, wrinkled and gray, standing by his easel. In both paintings, he is confident almost to the point of indifference: a professional of imposing stature who looks out at his audience confrontationally, head-on, without a trace of fear. In both paintings, he holds his brushes and palette close to his body, his hand poised before his canvas, which not only doesn’t come close to overwhelming him, but for the most part is cropped out of the picture. Rembrandt’s face is the central concern of these paintings, and he stands erect, with seeming ease and comfortability—a true master of his craft. The insecurity of Artist in his Studio is safely in the past.
In the end, whether Artist in his Studio depicts Rembrandt or a fictional painter doesn’t matter; it is Rembrandt, or at least a depiction of his experience as a painter who must look inward and repeatedly question every decision. This painting imparts a maddening gift by allowing the viewer to put herself in the artist’s shoes, to see what he sees, to experience the same frustrations and breakthroughs. Rembrandt also understood that the curiosity surrounding the mysterious nature of creativity—and what exactly goes on in an artist’s studio—will always persist.