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Rembrandt's Aging Face in Plastic Surgical Perspective

Hage, J. Joris MD, PhD*; Lange, Jan MD*; Karim, Refaat B. MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/SAP.0000000000001917
Circumspectus Medicinae: Texts and Contexts

Background and Aim When the painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1607–1669) died 350 years ago, he left us some 90 self-portraits showing his aging face. Recognizing aging characteristics of the male face is fundamental to the planning of a surgical procedure and a prerequisite when communicating to the male patient. Rembrandt's recordings through the years might offer an optimal aid to train such recognition, provided that they are truthful. In this article, we present an inventory of age-related changes observed in these self-portraits to assess whether they are truthful.

Methods High-quality photographs of 25 self-portraits that are generally accepted as works by Rembrandt were independently assessed in a standardized fashion for the presence of 25 aging characteristics, by 2 plastic surgeons and a physician-portraitist.

Results The observed proportion of agreement between assessments reached 0.87 (κ = 0.68, indicating good agreement). We found Rembrandt's self-portraits to reflect his facial aging as a chronologically increasing process. Observed characteristics set in as of 1642, the year that he lost his beloved first wife, Saskia. His face appears to have particularly aged from 1652 to 1659, in which period Rembrandt's second great love Hendrickje was summoned because of her living in sin with Rembrandt, and Rembrandt himself faced financial problems. As of 1660, Rembrandt seems to have been less intended to depict his facial aging characteristics.

Conclusions We conclude that Rembrandt truthfully reflected his ongoing age in the self-portraits, up to 1660. These self-portraits therefore may allow for training the art of observation of such characteristics.

From the *Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Amsterdam; and

Treant Zorggroep, Scheper-Emmen, the Netherlands.

Received October 15, 2018, and accepted for publication, after revision February 1, 2019.

Conflicts of interest and sources of funding: none declared.

Reprints: J. Joris Hage, MD, PhD, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Netherlands Cancer Institute–Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Plesmanlaan 121, NL-1066 CX Amsterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail:

Online date: June 21, 2019

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