Philosopher in Meditation painted in 1632, and commonly attributed to Rembrandt, is one of the dominant pieces of the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Signed "RHL-van Rijn", an unusual signature in the artist’s chronology, many have questioned the attribution of the painting to the Dutch master. But Philosopher in Meditation, as it is commonly titled, is no imitation or reproduction. Coinciding with Rembrandt’s move from Leiden to Amsterdam in 1632, this canvas, imbued with the beautifully rendered chiaroscuro technique popularized by Caravaggio, is an intricate, obscure, and mysterious work. Scholars have recently argued against the claim that the painting deals with a Philosopher meditating over his work – primarily because of the lack of iconographic elements usually associated with philosophical, alchemic or scholarly pursuits. This considered, the work is immensely popular and is often a pictorial representation of the aforementioned crafts. Instead, many have argued that the painting may depict the Biblical story of Tobit and Anna waiting for their son Tobias.
Philosopher in Meditation is an imagined reproduction of two figures surrounded by a wooden spiral staircase in a vaulted room, the varied architecture of the interior giving a vivid impression of endurance and monumentality. Unfortunately, as with many paintings of its age, the aging of the varnish has gradually darkened the canvas, rendering almost invisible a third figure leaden with a basket and turned to face the viewer. The Book of Tobit (or Tobias) was one of Rembrandt’s most beloved Old Testament sources, and it is more likely that the layout and balance between the figures represents and unifies the blindness of both Tobit and his wife Anna. Another version of the elderly couple waiting for their son Tobia had already been painted by Rembrandt in 1630, allowing for a continuity of theme. Yet, regardless of theme or painter, this imagined reproduction has captivated the minds of leading modernist writers of the twentieth century, become an avatar for philosophical thought, and continues to attract interpretations to this day.
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