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Extraordinary self-portrait

In 1553 Maarten van Heemskerck painted one of the most remarkable self-portraits in the history of European art: ‘Self-Portrait with Colosseum’. This very special double portrait forms the focal point of this exhibition.

Maarten van Heemskerck, Self portrait with the Colosseum, 1553
Maarten van Heemskerck, Self portrait with the Colosseum, 1553

Van Heemskerck’s ‘Self-Portrait with Colosseum’ recently arrived in Rotterdam from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Maarten Van Heemskerck painted this portrait many years after his return from Rome. He lived in the ‘Eternal City’ from 1532 to 1536/1537, where he was inspired by the remnants of classical antiquity. This painting shows his self-portrait against the backdrop of the ruins of the Colosseum: the ultimate symbol of Rome. Upon closer inspection we see that he is not standing in front of the actual Colosseum, but a painting of the building. A label bearing his signature is attached to the painting with red sealing wax. In this ‘image within an image’ a painter can be seen sketching the Colosseum: this is Van Heemskerck himself, when he was living in Rome. This double portrait tells us just how important his stay in the city some twenty years earlier remained for him.
This wonderful portrait forms the basis for a selection of works in the exhibition Maarten van Heemskerck – Ancient Rome Relives, including paintings, sketches and prints by the famous artist from Haarlem. Many of the sketches that Van Heemskerck made during his stay in Rome are in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin and cannot be loaned to the exhibition, but several are reproduced in the booklet that accompanies the exhibition. These sketches provide characteristic examples of the influence of Van Heemskerck’s stay in Rome on his later work. This exhibition has been made possible thanks to a gift from the Thalatta Foundation.

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