REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn
(b. 1606, Leiden, d. 1669, Amsterdam)
Aristotle with a Bust of Homer1653
Oil on canvas, 144 x 137 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Catalogue number: Bredius 478.
This imaginary portrait, one of Rembrandt's best-known works, was painted for Don Antonio Ruffo, a wealthy Sicilian nobleman and Rembrandt's only foreign patron, who had asked Rembrandt for a portrait of a philosopher. The artist sent the painting to Messina (Sicily) in 1654. He was paid 500 Dutch florine (gulden) for it.
Rather than choose a single figure, the enormously inventive artist found a way to present three of the great men of antiquity: Aristotle, Homer, and Alexander the Great. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher of the fourth century B.C., is shown in his library dressed in the robes of a Renaissance humanist. He rests his hand on a bust of Homer and wears a splendid chain bearing a medallion of Alexander the Great, who had at one time been Aristotle's pupil. The figure of Homer was certainly based on one of several Hellenistic busts owned by Rembrandt; the figure of Aristotle is reminiscent of Rembrandt's portraits of the Jews of the Amsterdam ghetto, whom he had often used as models in his biblical paintings. The solemn stillness of Aristotle's study, the eloquence of his fingers resting on the bust of the blind poet, and above all the brooding mystery in his face unite to communicate an image of deep thought.