RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)

The Four Philosophers

Oil on canvas, 164 x 139 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

Portraits, including those in seventeenth-century Antwerp, were not just a mirror of the dominant ethical ideas of the time. They could also, in an equally subtle way, illustrate someone's intellectual role and significance. The group portrait known as the Four Philosophers, which shows Rubens with three humanists, his brother Philip, Johannes Woverius and the teacher of both of them, Justus Lipsius is a typical example. Emblematic details make it clear that Rubens has shown himself with the three humanists in order to express the underlying moral principles of Stoic philosophy, which were also those of the influential Lipsius and the other sitters. They are shown gathered together in homage to Seneca, one of the classical exponents of Stoicism, here represented by his bust. Finally, the ruins of the Palatine in the background show that the picture also pays homage to classical culture in the widest sense, symbolizing the resurrection in their own time of the departed glory of Hellenistic-Roman antiquity.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.