Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
The Philosopher
Artistic voice: Johannes Vermeer, 1670, Delft
Oil on canvas, 48 x 42 cm

»Spinoza was the most original and radical philosopher of his time. His rejection of the providential God of the Abrahamic religions, his denial of the possibility of miracles, his claim that the Bible was just a work of human literature, and his indictment of the major organized religions as merely organized superstitions led to condemnations by ecclesiastic and civic authorities, with the term “Spinozism” becoming synonymous, in their minds, with atheism. Spinoza, of all the early modern thinkers, is also the most relevant for us today. His arguments for a democratic, secular and tolerant society are as important now as they were in seventeenth-century Europe. There is no evidence that Spinoza and Vermeer ever met each other, but they could have crossed paths in The Hague, where, by 1670, the now infamous Spinoza was living and where Vermeer (who lived in Delft) was occasionally to be found on business.«

Professor Steven Nadler, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Baruch de Spinoza earned his living as a lens grinder. Like Vermeer he knew the naturalist van Leeuwenhoek, who developed a microscope and other optical equipment. Vermeer is likely to have used optical devices to work on his paintings. In “The Philosopher”, Beltracchi harks back to the feel of the camera obscura, and this painting adds a third scientist to Vermeer’s pair of images “The Astronomer” and “The Geographer”. The philosopher seeks to evaluate the inner world, rather than the outer, but is no less focussed on seeing things accurately and on precise thought. In the 17th century, known as The Golden Age, the Netherlands experienced an unprecedented cultural boom in business and art, but also in science.