Viewing the Portrait of Titus
by Elaine Greene Weisberg
About twenty years ago on one of our trips to London, my husband and I spent an afternoon at the Wallace Collection whose holdings include five Rembrandts. In a museum containing 25 galleries of Old Masters it is easy to walk past great works. I didn’t give more than half a minute to Frans Hals’s flashy Laughing Cavalier—an icon of the Collection. “Mmm, nice textiles,” I thought, “But it’s not a man I’d want to meet.”
Then I came upon a portrait of Titus, Rembrandt’s son, who was painted by his father throughout his young life. Here at age sixteen he was approaching manhood. On the 64-inch-tall canvas the artist shows us the outer Titus, lighted from the left, dressed in brown against a brown background shading to black. His luxuriant wavy hair is brown and his soft beret is a muted red, matched by the warm tone of his lips. The beginnings of a mustache are visible.
But the inner person was always Rembrandt‘s portrait subject, revealed especially by the eyes. Titus is looking at the painter, an author of his being. They gaze at each other. The painting is about trust and love.
I stand there, tears are running down my cheeks for the first time in front of a painting. My husband says, “ Is anything the matter?” I say, “Rembrandt would have liked me.” We embrace.
Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.