Wallerant Vailant

Wallerant Vailant, “Self Portrait with Turban”, Oil on Canvas, 1655-1660

The Dutch painter and printmaker Wallerant Vaillant is best known for his engravings, especially his numerous mezzotints, a technique he did much to develop. His painted oeuvre is rarer, largely consisting of portraits, and including a number of self-portraits in which the artist presents himself clothed in a variety of picturesque costumes – for example in Orientalist mode, as seen here.

It is significant that the painter never represents himself exercising his art – that is, with palette and paintbrushes. In this respect, he was clearly inspired by the numerous self-portraits of Rembrandt in which the great Dutchman created sartorially-varied likenesses, accentuating expression and social status more than his own entirely true profession. These have the appearance of exercises, almost a series of repertory characters, within the greatly prized genre of portraiture.

In Amsterdam, Vaillant would have had ample opportunity to witness Rembrandt’s genius, since he was obliged for religious motives to seek exile early in his career in the capital of the Dutch kingdom, where he lived –with the exception of some extended trips abroad – until his death.

Creating this portrait through an oculus that offsets the bust enables the painter to play with optical space, an expedient he used on other occasions.  In this case, the highly refined, painstaking technique used in describing the face, treating transparency in an exceptionally realistic manner, heightens the photographic appearance of the work. Conversely, the reflections on the rich brocade of the turban, no doubt a product of the Compagnie des Indes, are depicted with a free, more generously loaded brush. It is striking how a master known for his manière noire was such a talented colourist.

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