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Painted portraits

Most of Jan Rustem’s creative heritage comprises portraits. The artist created different types of portraits, including miniatures, pictures of whole figures or of half the figure for presentation purposes and small-format bust portaits.

J. Rustem usually painted miniature portraits in his early creative work. He gained the skills for painting aristocratic portraits at Marcello Bacciarelli’s royal painting studio. The artist depicted figures in the background as ancient heroes (such as the Muses and Cupid) in portraits for large halls. In half-figure representations, he used attributes showing the person’s profession or hobbies.

J. Rustem did not actually create a large number of representational portraits. He usually painted bust portraits in a small format, without focusing on the social status, profession or duties of the depicted person. J. Rustem’s bust portraits of Vilnius University professors, landlords and townspeople are much alike in a compositional sense. The artist painted his models without any attributes on a dark and empty background, shining a bright light on their faces. Light is one of the main compositional elements J. Rustem’s pictures. It is an important factor in emotional expression because it creates a more lyrical or dramatic mood and expresses melancholy, sensitivity, energy or rashness.

J. Rustem created numerous self-portraits. He liked exotic, “scenic” forms and might have seen himself as the strangest and most imperfect model. He emphasised his sharp facial features, his eagle nose, a long painted Turkish pipe and a bright red fez that stressed his oriental origins.