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The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes [NOOK Book]

Overview

In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait of a middle-aged man with long dark hair, a mustache, and heavy-lidded eyes, and he is dressed in the starched white collar and black coat of the typical Dutch burgher. The painting is now the iconic image of René Descartes, the great seventeenth-century French philosopher. And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals--or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where, then, is the authentic version located, and who ...

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The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes

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Overview

In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait of a middle-aged man with long dark hair, a mustache, and heavy-lidded eyes, and he is dressed in the starched white collar and black coat of the typical Dutch burgher. The painting is now the iconic image of René Descartes, the great seventeenth-century French philosopher. And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals--or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where, then, is the authentic version located, and who painted it? Is the man in the painting--and in its original--really Descartes?

A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter investigates the remarkable individuals and circumstances behind a small portrait. Through this image--and the intersecting lives of a brilliant philosopher, a Catholic priest, and a gifted painter--Steven Nadler opens up a fascinating portal into Descartes's life and times, skillfully presenting an accessible introduction to Descartes's philosophical and scientific ideas, and an illuminating tour of the volatile political and religious environment of the Dutch Golden Age. As Nadler shows, Descartes's innovative ideas about the world, about human nature and knowledge, and about philosophy itself, stirred great controversy. Philosophical and theological critics vigorously opposed his views, and civil and ecclesiastic authorities condemned his writings. Nevertheless, Descartes's thought came to dominate the philosophical world of the period, and can rightly be called the philosophy of the seventeenth century.

Shedding light on a well-known image, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter offers an engaging exploration of a celebrated philosopher's world and work.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
Much of Nadler's work exemplifies what the French call "haute vulgarisation," high-level popularization. You don't need to have aced Epistemology 101 to understand his books; you just need to pay close attention to his clear, patient exposition. In The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter, Nadler has…written his most inviting book yet…[this] survey of Golden Age Dutch culture, Cartesian philosophy and art connoisseurship…makes for heady and very welcome intellectual entertainment.
Publishers Weekly
In the Louvre hangs a portrait of a dark-haired, middle-aged man wearing a black coat. The label identifies the figure as the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes. It’s a “copy of a Hals” (referring to the Dutch portraitist Frans Hals). Is it really Descartes? Could it be a portrait by Hals and not a copy? Did someone commission this portrait? In a convoluted tale that is part detective story, part art history, and part history of philosophy, Nadler (Spinoza) tries to answer these questions. Along the way, he provides a brief introduction to Descartes’s life and thought; in the early part of the 17th century, Descartes traveled to the Netherlands in order to “raise mind above the level of book learning.” While he remained only a few years, he returned permanently in 1629 in search of peace and quiet, and published Discourse on Method there in 1637. This work—containing Decartes’s declaration, “I think, therefore I am”—brought him into contact with artists and religious thinkers, including Augustijn Bloemaert and Johan Albert Ban. When Queen Christina of Sweden invited Descartes to be her tutor in 1647, he began preparations to depart from the Netherlands, and Bloemaert sought to have Descartes’s portrait painted as a memento. Better suited as a journal article, Nadler’s lackluster tale has limited appeal. (May)
New Republic - Peter Gordon
Praise for Steven Nadler's A Book Forged in Hell:"[A] delightfully lucid and philosophically thorough account. . . . What makes Nadler's so welcome a contribution is the care and the clarity of his philosophical exposition.
New Republic

Praise for Steven Nadler's A Book Forged in Hell:"[A] delightfully lucid and philosophically thorough account. . . . What makes Nadler's so welcome a contribution is the care and the clarity of his philosophical exposition.
— Peter Gordon
Australian
[C]harming. . . . Nadler, an American philosopher and author, has written an immensely readable introduction to Descartes.
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
Riveting. . . . In The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter, Nadler has . . . written his most inviting book yet. . . . Nadler's detective work makes for fascinating reading. . . . [T]he resulting survey of Golden Age Dutch culture, Cartesian philosophy and art connoisseurship . . . makes for . . . very welcome intellectual entertainment.
Literary Review - Jerry Brotton
As one would expect from a distinguished philosopher such as Nadler, the description of Descartes's philosophy, and in particular his Discourse (1637) and Meditations (1641), is flawless.
Slate - David Wolf
[B]y situating him firmly in his time and place, [Nadler] makes clear what made Descartes the intellectual superstar of his day. . . . [A]n original, intriguing set-up. . . . [A]s an introduction to Descartes' philosophy, it is excellent.
Inside Higher Ed - Scott McLemee
[A] landscape (or at least a well-turned charcoal sketch) of religious, artistic, and economic life in the Netherlands during the first half of the 17th century. . . . Nadler's book . . . takes us back upstream a ways—beginning, rather than exempting us from, a dialog with the dead.
From the Publisher

"Steven Nadler has produced another gem of original research and lively and lucid writing."--Catherine Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

"Riveting. . . . In The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter, Nadler has . . . written his most inviting book yet. . . . Nadler's detective work makes for fascinating reading. . . . [T]he resulting survey of Golden Age Dutch culture, Cartesian philosophy and art connoisseurship . . . makes for . . . very welcome intellectual entertainment."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"[B]y situating him firmly in his time and place, [Nadler] makes clear what made Descartes the intellectual superstar of his day. . . . [A]n original, intriguing set-up. . . . [A]s an introduction to Descartes' philosophy, it is excellent."--David Wolf, Slate

"As one would expect from a distinguished philosopher such as Nadler, the description of Descartes's philosophy, and in particular his Discourse (1637) and Meditations (1641), is flawless."--Jerry Brotton, Literary Review

"Cartesian iconography centers around a widely known portrait of Descartes attributed to Frans Hals. In this book, Nadler uses the story of that painting's origin to present a study of Descartes and his philosophy that will be accessible to a wide audience. . . . [T]his volume serves as a very good introduction to Descartes's philosophy in historical context."--Choice

"[C]harming. . . . Nadler, an American philosopher and author, has written an immensely readable introduction to Descartes."--Australian

"[A] landscape (or at least a well-turned charcoal sketch) of religious, artistic, and economic life in the Netherlands during the first half of the 17th century. . . . Nadler's book . . . takes us back upstream a ways--beginning, rather than exempting us from, a dialog with the dead."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"[A]bsorbing."--France Magazine

"Nadler is appealing to a wider audience that is looking less for hard-nosed scholarship and more for a story to follow, some intrigue to pique the mind while telling the reader something interesting and informative about the life and work of Descartes. Insofar as the work is meant for a general audience, it accomplishes its aims well enough and should be well-received and enjoyed by those readers."--Aaron Massecar, European Legacy

"Nadler gives us a remarkably accessible and historically rich picture of Descartes's life and thought. The book provides a reliable and lively introduction to Descartes for the general reader and for scholars a pleasant portrait of Descartes."--Peter M. Distelzweig, Journal of the History of Philosophy

Kirkus Reviews
"A small, intimate portrait" illustrating the biography of René Descartes and his ideas. Nadler (Philosophy/Univ. of Wisconsin; A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age, 2011, etc.) believes that Descartes "belongs as much to the intellectual culture of the Dutch Golden Age as he does to the grand history of Western philosophy whose development he so strongly influenced." Feeling politically constrained in France, Descartes moved to Holland to work, but his philosophy aroused controversy and opposition in Dutch universities as well. Nadler situates the French philosopher's life in its Dutch context and frames the narrative with an investigation into a few portraits of Descartes. One was supposedly painted by Frans Hals and is in Copenhagen. The author demonstrates that there may be a possibility that one of Descartes' friends commissioned the portrait from Hals as a memento prior to the philosopher's 1649 departure on a visit to the queen of Sweden. This would have been from the period he lived in the village where he wrote the Discourse on Method and Principles of Philosophy. The friend was the Catholic priest Augustijn Alsten Blomart, who lived in the city of Haarlem, just south of Descartes' country-village home. Blomart, as Nadler shows, was well-integrated into contemporary Dutch literary, artistic, scientific and political circles. Hals also lived and worked in Haarlem. Nadler discusses the extant portraits of the philosopher, as well as their provenance and what is known of the context in which they were produced. He also provides a chronological summary of Descartes' philosophical works in relation to their Dutch context. A generalist brings together three fields--philosophy, religion and art--often kept separate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400847594
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/21/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Course Book
  • Pages: 248
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. His books include "Rembrandt’s Jews", which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; "Spinoza: A Life", which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; and "A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age" (Princeton).
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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter 1 Prologue: A Tale of Two Paintings 1
Chapter 2 The Philosopher 8
Chapter 3 The Priest 36
Chapter 4 The Painter 55
Chapter 5 "Once in a Lifetime" 87
Chapter 6 A New Philosophy 111
Chapter 7 God in Haarlem 143
Chapter 8 The Portrait 174
Notes 199
Bibliography 219
Index 227
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