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  • Jessica Norman

One Hundred Self Portraits

Rembrandt painted close to

One hundred self-portraits

In pencil and ink

and oils and chalk -

Brow etched with lines

And glazed eyes

That gaze into a world

So far beyond their canvas.


Was it for Saskia,

Those lines were drawn?

No-one’s sure

Which portraits are yours -

Married for love at twenty-two

And dead by twenty-nine

But not before you bore

Four, and lost three babies -

Noblewoman to a miller’s son,

Later, he would sell your grave to pay his debts,

And yet

They named an asteroid after you:

Saskia four hundred and sixty one.


Was it for Geertje -

Young Titus’s young wet-nurse

With fire in your soul -

That burin in hand

He carved those grooves?

You fought with every fibre

For the marriage promised you

Only to be committed

by him to

Spinhuis - the asylum -

Where you deserved to be

Perhaps, for thinking

He would marry you.


For he’d already found Hendrickje -

Twenty years his junior

And former maid -

Did he impasto thick

Those folds with light and shade

For you?

Who saved him from debt

With canny business mind

And so remained his common-law wife

Until you died

Perhaps of plague in 1663.


For this no words in any language:

Saskia, Geertje, Hendrickje, all

Appendages to his success

Their legacy left

(one asteroid and)

A collection of composite images,

As he immortalised himself

One hundred times over

In his own hand.


#Poetry #Rembrandt #OneHundredSelfPortraits

Headshots by Johan Persson 

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