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Rembrandt - A Man in Armour

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, A Man in Armour, 1655

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, A Man in Armour, 1655

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The oil on canvas masterpiece, A Man in Armour by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–69) dating from about 1655, is the highlight of the Dutch collection and one of the greatest paintings in Glasgow. With great power and poignancy, Rembrandt has depicted a young man literally weighed down with heavy armour and weapons and appearing to have profound thoughts of battles ahead. Significantly, this soldier’s armour, circular shield and lance are all of a style essentially obsolete by the 1650s, when this painting was made. This suggests that he is to be understood as a figure from the past. His helmet, evoking antiquity, is an invention by the artist - mixing the rear neck-guard of a contemporary cavalry helmet with a brow plate and crest in a style then considered to be characteristically classical.

Who the man in the painting is has been a matter of continuing debate. Classical heroes, like Achilles, or Gods, like Mars and Apollo, have been proposed while warrior goddesses such as Bellona and Pallas Athene (the Roman Minerva) have also been suggested by virtue of the subject’s youthful features and prominent pearl earring. The latter claim is supported by the presence of an owl – a symbol sacred to Athene - embossed in the armours brow plate. However the probable subject of the painting is actually the successful Macedonian king Alexander the Great. He was famed for his intellect, youth and military prowess and, like many soldiers in classical antiquity, revered Athene – all of which are represented here.

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