Few other artists depicted themselves as regularly and with such variety and psychological insight as Rembrandt. He painted himself before the mirror on at least forty occasions, and etched himself no fewer than thirty-one times in a printmaking career that stretched over three decades. This segment of his ouevre is unique in art history, not only in its scale and the length of time it spans, but also in its regularity.
His features offered a convenient model with which to enact a narrative or try on a costume, or to train his students in the art of representing physiognomy and character. They could also act as a demonstration of personal style and virtuosity that could be given or sold to patrons or prospective buyers. Almost all his etched portraits were of an informal nature. Aside from himself the sitters were relatives, friends, colleagues or people with whom the artist had some personal contact. In many cases we know of some personal relationship between the sitter and the artist, and one may suspect that often a print reflected some token of gratitude or friendship.