Rembrandt's portrait drawings and etchings engage the viewer by conveying the human presence of his sitters. Whether in quickly rendered studies of his own face or in carefully modeled commissioned portraits, Rembrandt captured the emotional and psychological character of his subjects as well as their physical appearance.
Rembrandt began making portrait prints, primarily self-portraits and depictions of family members, around 1630, shortly before he left his native Leiden for Amsterdam. After moving around 1632 to Amsterdam, where he met and married Saskia van Uylenburgh, Rembrandt continued to etch self-portraits as his rising fame ensured a continual demand for his images. During the 1630s and 1640s he also received a number of commissions for larger, more formal portrait prints from friends and collectors, among them civic officials, ministers, and other artists. During the mid-1650s, when Rembrandt was experiencing financial difficulties and had to declare bankruptcy, he also seems to have etched portraits as tokens of gratitude for individuals who helped him during this period of personal crisis.
Rembrandt not only made portrait prints for friends and patrons, but he also sold them on the open market, where they were admired for their insights into human psychology. He understood how to emphasize gaze and expression by harnessing the effects of light and shadow through the strength and rhythm of his line as well as by the way he inked and wiped his plates. Moreover, he often printed his portraits on Japanese papers, because their warm tonalities enhanced the humanizing quality of his subjects.