Portrait of Marten Looten

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Throughout history, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Picasso have been revered as exceptional artists. However, it is Rembrandt van Rijn who surpasses them all with his unparalleled technical prowess in painting and etching, exemplifying the artistic mastery of the 17th century. Rembrandt’s extensive body of work encompasses various genres, including a multitude of portraits. Among these remarkable pieces, there is one painting that particularly stands out and captivates our gaze.

The Portrait of Marten Looten is an extraordinary painting commissioned by Marten Looten, a wealthy Dutch merchant, in 1632. Rembrandt utilized oil paint on a wooden canvas to produce an almost ethereal representation of someone else. The artwork’s level of intricacy is astounding, resulting in an incredibly lifelike portrayal. With the impeccable modeling of Marten and the painting’s life-sized proportions, viewers feel as though they are looking through a window into a neighboring room.

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The painting’s composition follows the traditional portrait style, with Marten positioned centrally and a plain background. Marten’s upper body is visible, and he gazes directly at the viewer. His attractive face is positioned slightly above the main horizontal axis, drawing the viewer’s attention. Rembrandt portrays Marten as a wealthy businessman through the inclusion of his large black hat and long black cape, symbolic of his prosperity.

Marten appears to be in motion, with his hand gestures and turned head indicating a sudden shift of attention towards the viewer. In his left hand, he securely holds an unfolded piece of parchment that seems to have been previously folded, likely a letter. Looking directly at the viewer, his facial expression conveys seriousness, possibly due to distressing information just received. His eyebrows are slightly slanted downwards on the outer parts, while his parted lips suggest a soft gasp in astonishment, hinting at his readiness to speak. His body language suggests that the viewer has startled him; he quickly moves his right hand to cover his chest instinctively as if taken by surprise.

There is a slight turn away from the viewer, allowing the viewer to perceive his fearful feeling. It’s possible that reading the letter caused an unsettling sensation in him, and in that vulnerable state, he was unintentionally startled. The arrangement of the painting is nearly flawless, but Marten seems somewhat stiff. If Rembrandt depicted Marten with slightly hunched shoulders, his fear would be more believable.

On the other hand, a stylish and affluent man would avoid appearing feeble and subservient, wouldn’t he? Regarding hues, the portrait is predominantly monochromatic; the sole discernible color is observed in the visage, appendages, and parchment. Additionally, there are subtle traces of tan in the lower backdrop and cape below, although the more noticeable tones of the hands and face overshadow it. The entire backdrop gradually lightens in tone as one looks from the upper portion of the composition downwards. The hands and face are adorned with a superb and convincing flesh shade, with the hands displaying a more saturated hue.

The shaded sections of the mentioned body parts have a significantly darker shade, especially the right hand, which almost blends into the black cape. Marten’s beard and eyebrows are skillfully painted using a light brown hue. The irises exhibit a deep and captivating dark brown color, while the ears are a dark tan shade. The nose and cheeks display a vibrant rosy pink, suggesting embarrassment or nervousness. The lips are beautifully painted in a delightful shade of red, utilizing varying intensities to convey a sense of depth.

The portrait uses minimal colors, which are believable and pleasing to the eyes. The painting is impressive in its three-dimensionality, a characteristic Rembrandt is known for. His accurate portrayal of human shape and form is evident in this piece. Through careful and selective layering of oil paint, he creates a remarkable representation of the human figure. The face is particularly captivating in terms of modeling technique.

The painting exhibits remarkable intricate details, challenging the notion that it was created manually. The artist’s meticulousness is apparent in the fine and light texture of the facial hair and the subtle wrinkles near the eyes. Rembrandt adeptly employs chiaroscuro to achieve a sense of depth on the nose and right hand, while the artwork’s overall style imparts a gentle and refined look. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s distinctive triangular lighting technique can be observed on the face, forming a small triangle beneath the eyes.

Located beneath the left eye in Marten’s portrait is a feature that enhances the natural appearance of his face. Another method employed to enhance the three-dimensional effect of the visible body parts is the utilization of stark contrast with the dark clothing. The deeply dark cape and hat push the face and hands forward, while still maintaining a strong connection. Additionally, noteworthy elements in this artwork are the creases on the parchment, which further heighten the realism of the portrait. The actual measurements of the portrait are 36 ? x 30 inches.

When considering the actual painting of Marten Looten, one almost feels as if they are having a conversation with him due to its life-sized portrayal. To enhance this effect, the painting could be positioned at a lower point on the gallery wall, aligning Marten’s eye level with that of the viewer. Additionally, the figure style of the painting draws inspiration from the High Renaissance and exhibits accurately proportioned body parts, intricately modeled shadows, and chiaroscuro. In terms of technicality, Rembrandt’s work could be placed on a par with renowned artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, or maybe even surpass them.

Martin’s pose is uncommon and not astonishingly lifelike, but it is uniquely his own. Rembrandt van Rijn always dedicates time and effort to his work, which is evident. Descriptions of even his simplest works could occupy several pages. His exploration of the human figure, particularly facial expressions, is a key factor in his status as one of history’s most renowned artists. The Portrait of Marten Looten was created in 1632 during Holland’s Golden Age, a remarkably innovative era for the arts, particularly painting.

Amsterdam flourished as a prominent center for art and commerce in Northern Europe due to the arrival of talented artists like Rembrandt. The painting showcases a unique iconography, portraying a wealthy entrepreneur identifiable by his hat and cape. He is shown reading an important letter while directly engaging with the viewer. This famous artwork was produced during a period when art became more accessible to the public, leading to an increased demand for portraits.

The indication that Marten was sent a letter in big letters suggests his elevated status. Additionally, the artwork depicts Amsterdam, a thriving trade hub during that era. The portrayal of a prosperous merchant accurately reflects the city’s wealth. It is probable that Rembrandt drew inspiration from this setting and delivered his finest masterpiece for this specific commission.

If someone in 17th century Holland were to look at the painting, they would likely have a better understanding and appreciation of its characteristics compared to someone in today’s society. The clothing and style of the painting would be more recognizable to them. Rembrandt has other portraits with similar composition and style, such as “Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp,” “Portrait of Jacob III de Gheyn,” and “Portrait of Dirck Pesser” (rembrandtonline.org).

All three of the previously mentioned portraits share a similar style, especially the Portrait of Dirck Pesser. The viewer sees the right cheek turned towards them, and the figure displays an almost identical facial expression. Rembrandt created the Portrait of Marten Looten when he was just 25 years old during his early career in Amsterdam. At that time, he received many commissions, including the Portrait of Nicolaes Ruts, which was referred to as his “first real commissioned portrait” by Westermann. As a result, his reputation as an artist rapidly grew.

In 1632, after completing the Portrait of Marten Looten, Rembrandt was hired to paint the Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (Broos). It seems that Marten’s portrait greatly influenced Rembrandt’s rise to global fame. The main purpose of the Portrait of Marten Looten was likely to have it displayed in Marten Looten’s home. Wealthy individuals have always been interested in showcasing their social status and hiring a famous artist to create their portrait proved to be an effective method. During this time, there was also a high demand for portraits due to Amsterdam’s prosperity, which provided plenty of art supplies. In terms of technique, the Portrait of Marten Looten played a crucial role in advancing portraiture. Holland produced some outstanding artworks during the 17th century and while this specific painting may not be as well-known as others, it still made significant contributions to the development of portraiture.

Rembrandt’s worldwide reputation is based on his extraordinary brushwork and careful composition. Despite personal difficulties and the heartbreaking deaths of his wife and son, he set an impressive standard in portraiture. Even after his death in 1669, Rembrandt’s talent for capturing the human form, gestures, and feelings without embellishment remained distinctive. His meticulous anatomical accuracy has often been compared to that of Leonardo and Titian.

Works Cited

Broos, B. P. J., et al. “Rembrandt van Rijn.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.


Westermann, Mariët. “Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn.” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 20 Nov. 2012.

The source of the information is www.rembrandtonline.org. It was published between 2002 and 2012. The article can be accessed through http://0-www.oxfordartonline.com.opac.library.csupomona.edu/e2198/oprr/subscriber/t118.

Rembrandt Online. November 2012. .

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Portrait of Marten Looten. (2016, Nov 28). Retrieved from


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