Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Philosopher in Meditation

This is a painting by Rembrandt. It is called "Philosopher in Meditation" and it is one of a series of paintings Rembrandt did on the subject of philosophers. Now the remarkable thing about this painting is that it captures more than just a philosopher in meditation. It is a commentary or speculation by Rembrandt himself on the very same issues that philosophers think about. The symbolism of many things in the painting are very clear including the light shining on the philosopher from the window, the curved staircase that goes both up and down, the figure stoking the fire in the lower right and the circle that is almost in the very center of the painting. Of course the over abundance of darkness is also very important.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this painting I would love to hear and/or discuss them. -Will


Paul said...

I have looked at what is most obvious first to me,
Two men.
Both next to openings, one closed by a wooden door the other full of fire. (Contemplates/Active).
One man with hands clasped, other man hands holding a tool to probe the fire.
One illuminated by light the other illuminated by fire.
The stairs curling like a DNA helix (which brings two DNA strands into union).

So it comes to me, the possible meaning behind the painting is:


The whole picture looks like a Yin Yang symbol.
Which can be seen in the tear drop shape of light, and the opposite tear drop shape of darkness.(entwined).
Also the stair leads up possibly to the outside world.
To take the stair each man would cross over into the other mans world, but instead they stay trapped ether deep in thought or transfixed by fire.
How do they leave the room uniting in both worlds?
Or when you descend the stair in a perfect state of (Oneness) like an Angel or spirit before birth into this world of opposites) we become divided seeing life only from one of two opposites.
Thanks for the picture Will got me thinking again.
You trouble maker!

Anonymous said...

DNA had not yet been discovered.

I think the painting plays simply off the difference in knowing the world through doing (the man the stoking the fire, manipulating the world with his hands) and the man knowing the world through intelligent thought.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this painting showcases one of the premier philosophy topics of the time: natural vs man-made. THe light coming through the window is natural and therefore pure and strong. Whereas the light created by the man-made fire is weak and imperfect.
However, both subjects share one uniting similarity: the search for the meaning of life. The man by the window is fighting to understand his world as created by a supreme being. The man by the fire is struggling to innovate as a way of explaining phenomenon. Rembrandt's personal comment is shown as clear as the light of day. The soft, gentle light leaking in through the window on the left side of the painting illuminates his half of the room. The man tending the fire struggles to create enough light to even show his face. In other words, Rembrandt trusts the natural universe

Anonymous said...

I have seen another image of this painting, bringing more light into the dark areas, and there are some extra details, including a man standing up the stairs facing the left.

Also, it appears to me that the person at the fire is a woman.

Anonymous said...

While I can see what Paul's meaning was, I can't seem to grasp that he would have use Chinese symbolism. What we CAN see clearly is that he is right to an extent; there are very clearly opposites; the man, in the light, thinking deeply and immobile. Whereas the woman is in total darkness and is busy doing chores in life. Perhaps the woman is so involved she cannot search for the meaning of life, while the philosopher leads his simple life and has time to think about such things, the painting also shows how two completely different sides of the same coin, so to speak can live close together-maybe even opposing forces. I think I could envision these two quarreling amongst themselves.

-David, 13 years of age

Don M said...

Be still and know...