On Rembrandt's Recognition

There are actually three people in this painting. The first one, of course, is the embodiment of the philosophical mind weighed down as it is by wistful melancholy, as is the case for philosophers, at least in the classical writings about them. The second one, Aristotle has his right hand on the lyrical pate, the beautiful poetic brain of Homer. But there is a third person on whom the whole story… And that person is contained in a medal that hangs on the very chain that dominates the composition. If you look hard you will see that there is a little figure turned in profile. The little figure, you can just see his cute not very classical nose, but above all you can see the helmet. And the helmet would have told everybody this can only be Alexander the Great… Both are honoured in antiquity I need hardly say, but both also come to sad ends. Homer, blind, despised. Aristotle also essentially sent into a kind of ignominious isolation. So in some sense or other they represent for Rembrandt the complicated relationship between being acknowledged and being rejected… Rembrandt ever since he was a kid has been painting himself, his fantasies have him with one of these fancy golden chains. Does he ever get one? No, he absolutely doesn’t.

Simon Schama, “Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Late Years.” - bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04mhsn1.

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