Intently interested in the expression of human emotion, Rembrandt often used himself as his own model in his early years as an independent master in Leiden. Here, in a small and freely painted work, he appears in the guise of a soldier, relaxed and engaging the viewer with a laugh.
For this sophisticated self-portrait, painted at age 21 or 22, Rembrandt combines a study of character and emotion (known in Dutch as a tronie) with a rare jovial self-presentation. The lively, short brushwork in the face and brisk handling of the neutral background convey a sense of spontaneity and immediacy.
This is one of a small number of paintings by Rembrandt from the late 1620s executed on copper. He signed it in the upper-left corner with his monogram of interlocking letters "RHL" (Rembrandt Harmenszoon Leidensis), which he used only briefly, from late 1627 to early 1629.