In the seventeenth century, just as today, people enjoyed having portraits of family members displayed in their
homes. The art of the portraiture was not just a matter of recording someone’s appearance. Rather, a great portrait
conveyed a sense of life—it captured the sitter’s personality or accomplishments in a way that showed who the
person really was. Frans Hals was a master of portraiture. He developed a loose manner of painting in which
brushstrokes seemed to be put down quickly, without hesitancy or effort. He often captured people laughing or
turning in their seat—as if in another moment, the view would be lost.
Frans Hals, The Merry Drinker, c. 1630 Judith Leyster, Self-Portrait, c. 1630
Judith Leyster’s paintings show much of the same bold and quick brushwork and spontaneity as Frans Hals’. Her
Self-Portrait may have been made as a presentation piece to gain entrance into the painter’s guild of Haarlem, so
she may have consciously been quoting the manner of Haarlem’s most respected master, Hals. There is no firm
evidence that Leyster studied with Hals, and most of her other paintings show much more tightly controlled
brushwork. Leyster was also more versatile than Hals, painting tavern scenes (like the one she sits in front of in the
Self-Portrait) and intimate genre scenes. Still, the similarity of her style and Hals’ led to many of her works being
attributed to Frans Hals; it was not until the mid-twentieth century that art historians rediscovered Leyster’s own
body of work.
The great master of the golden age of Dutch painting is Rembrandt van Rijn. As a man of remarkable talent and
energy, but with a tendency to make rather bad business deals, Rembrandt’s life is as interesting as his paintings.
Indeed, his paintings often document his life, because he made self-portraits throughout it. His self-portraits of the
1620s, when he was just learning his profession, show him trying out interesting facial expressions and costumes—
it seems as though Rembrandt was using himself as an affordable model for the dramatic paintings that mark his