The model in this etching is also known from a number of other works by Rembrandt from the years around 1630, both etchings and paintings. He also posed for Jan Lievens (1607-1674) and for Rembrandt's first pupil Gerard Dou (1613-1675). The man is sometimes identified as Rembrandt's father, Harmen Gerritsz. van Rijn, an identification that is uncertain to say the least. We can, however, assume that he is the same as the man who posed for the painting ‘Man with fur hat and press collar’ and Jan Gillisz. van Vliet’s etching after it.
Aside from any identification, the old man's head is an example of a ‘tronie’, a grotesque head, as Rembrandt and his contemporaries often portrayed. He wears a high hat, similar to that of ‘The blind violin player’. These hats were originally worn by Eastern European Jews, but Rembrandt used them as a common attribute. In addition to the hat, the man wears a coat trimmed with fur. The man is thus related to a number of ‘tronies’ in oriental costume, which appeared in the work of Rembrandt and Jan Lievens (1607-1674) from about 1627. Exotic headgear plays an important role in these heads and the large number of etchings and paintings on which they feature, shows that there was also a clientele for them.
Character study and theatrical clothing were central to these ‘tronies’, but the representation of light always plays a prominent role with Rembrandt. Here the light falls on the man's face from the right. His facial features are depicted in great detail. The wrinkles, the mustache and beard hair, and the frown between the eyes, Rembrandt has portrayed it all with short but varied lines. The fur of the hat is drawn with scratchy lines, while the jacket is made up of substantial shading. Finally, the fur of the coat is masterfully suggested with minimal lines.
Etching, 102 x 84 mm, PK-P-103.115.