“In seeking to create the definitive portrait of Washington, Rembrandt chose to frame the figure in an ornate stonework oval, a reflection of the oval format utilized in the museum portraits, which were themselves referential to the ancient clypeus format employed repeatedly in European and American prints to celebrate men of note and honor.
“…The Washington copies, or ‘portholes’ were produced in systematic fashion during the 1840s and 1850s, at a time when Washington was a particularly keen subject of national interest. In his lecture on ‘Washington and his Portrait,’ which he delivered numerous times with considerable success in the 1850s, Rembrandt proclaimed that it was his vocation ‘to multiply the Countenance of Washington.’ The replications had at least two important functions for him. First, much like the museum replicas, they produced income, but on a much larger scale because of the volume of the orders. Second, these portraits were a continual reminder of the success of the Patriae Pater, its federal acquisition being a unique event in his career. To replicate this work was to reaffirm himself as an artist. He was finally able to copy his own masterwork. It should be noted, however, that in line with his late style, these portraits deviated expressively from the Patriae Pater of 1824.
“Although some ‘portholes’ show Washington in black senatorial dress, in most he is clothed in military uniform. The figure is tightly set in a simplified stonework oval. The images themselves partake of an almost baroque quality, due to the deep curvilinear collar, rhythmically treated gold braid, and great sweeping lapels. The uniform, in fact, complements the style of the head with its deeply set eyes, variegated surface of lines, wrinkles, hair and pouches of flesh. The image is solid and dense, and yet full of movement. The blue eyes, high color of the cheeks, highly saturated golds and blues of the uniform, and atmospheric golden light imitating the timeless realm of the hero all contribute to the visual impact. The lines designating the stones in the oval frame converge on the head, their cracks and irregularities creating a visual energy. The image is masculine and martial, highly finished and suggestive of what is real, but executed in an artificial style. The tight control of the surfaces and the fullness of the forms result in a contained energy. It is simultaneously baroque and Victorian. These works were reduced to a system based on the already well-distilled likeness of the Patriae Pater" (Lillian B. Miller, In Pursuit of Fame: Rembrandt Peale 1778-1860, Washington, D.C., 1992, pp. 279-80).
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