Last week we showed you Rembrandt’s painting of the poet Homer, commissioned by the Sicilian nobleman Ruffo. Apart from this painting, Ruffo commissioned two other paintings by Rembrandt. Apart from this painting, Ruffo commissioned two other paintings by Rembrandt. One of these also features Homer, although in a very different way than we see here. Our Fact Friday question was: do you know what painting we’re referring to?
On the left: Rembrandt, Homer, 1663 (Mauritshuis, The Hague). On the right: Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The answer is: Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a bust of Homer, dated 1653. In this painting we see the philosopher resting his hand reflectively on a bust of Homer. A medallion representing Alexander the Great, whom Aristotle tutored, hangs from the heavy gold chain. The emphasis in this painting lies on the contrast between the chain and the bust; the philosopher contemplates material rewards as opposed to spiritual values.
This painting might also refer to a part of Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. He states that while the senses deal with the concrete and material aspect of phenomena, reason deals with the abstract and ideal aspects. Homer, the esteemed author of the Iliad and the Odysee, is thought to have been blind.
Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a bust of Homer was also the personal favourite of Walter Liedtke, former curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here you can watch Liedtke talk about this painting: