This work was painted in the final year of Rembrandt's life and is one of his last pictures. He died on 4 October 1669 and was buried in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.
Rembrandt painted more self portraits than any other artist of the 17th century. The National Gallery has two of them, separated by nearly thirty years. In this late picture, the artist wears a deep red coat and a beret, his hands clasped before him. The viewer is confronted by his steady gaze.
Rembrandt painted and etched self portraits throughout his life, but those executed in his final years, in which he presents himself in a reflective mood, are among the most poignant and challenging.
The painting was cleaned in 1967, revealing the damaged signature and date. The X-ray of the picture reveals two pentimenti (alterations to the design). First, a change in the size and colour of the beret, which was originally much larger and all white. Secondly, the original position of the hands was open and he was holding a paintbrush. Repainting the hands clasped and without the brush reduces their dramatic impact and draws attention back to the face.