In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait that is considered the iconic image of René Descartes, the great seventeenth-century French philosopher. And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals--or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where is the authentic version, and who painted it? Is the man in the painting--and in its original--really Descartes?
A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter investigates the remarkable individuals and circumstances behind a small portrait. Through this image--and the intersecting lives of a brilliant philosopher, a Catholic priest, and a gifted painter--Steven Nadler opens a fascinating portal into Descartes's life and times, skillfully presenting an accessible introduction to Descartes's philosophical and scientific ideas, and an illuminating tour of the volatile political and religious environment of the Dutch Golden Age. As Nadler shows, Descartes's innovative ideas about the world, about human nature and knowledge, and about philosophy itself, stirred great controversy. Philosophical and theological critics vigorously opposed his views, and civil and ecclesiastic authorities condemned his writings. Nevertheless, Descartes's thought came to dominate the philosophical world of the period, and can rightly be called the philosophy of the seventeenth century.
Shedding light on a well-known image, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter offers an engaging exploration of a celebrated philosopher's world and work.
In the Louvre hangs a portrait of a dark-haired, middle-aged man wearing a black coat. The label identifies the figure as the 17th-century philosopher Ren Descartes. It s a copy of a Hals (referring to the Dutch portraitist Frans Hals). Is it really Descartes? Could it be a portrait by Hals and not a copy? Did someone commission this portrait? In a convoluted tale that is part detective story, part art history, and part history of philosophy, Nadler (Spinoza) tries to answer these questions. Along the way, he provides a brief introduction to Descartes s life and thought; in the early part of the 17th century, Descartes traveled to the Netherlands in order to raise mind above the level of book learning. While he remained only a few years, he returned permanently in 1629 in search of peace and quiet, and published Discourse on Method there in 1637. This work containing Decartes s declaration, I think, therefore I am brought him into contact with artists and religious thinkers, including Augustijn Bloemaert and Johan Albert Ban. When Queen Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to be her tutor in 1647, he began preparations to depart from the Netherlands, and Bloemaert sought to have Descartes s portrait painted as a memento. Better suited as a journal article, Nadler s lackluster tale has limited appeal.