One way to think of the evolution of culture in general, and the history of Western civilization in particular, is as a great conversation among the living and the dead. It is hard to imagine a more celebrated or more succinct illustration of this notion than Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer.
Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. Oil on canvas, 1653. 56 1/2 " x 55 3/4". Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The founder of empirical philosophy, Aristotle is shown here as a living being, richly dressed, his gold chain unambiguously alluding to his world-dominating pupil and patron, Alexander the Great. The aging philosopher rests his hand on a marble bust of the father of Western literature, the blind poet, Homer, who was an archivist of human hopes and immortal deeds, and a personification of the creative spirit. Theirs is a silent, transgenerational dialogue—between life and art, between world and spirit—and thanks to Rembrandt, we, too, in contemplating them all, are drawn inexorably into the conversation.With special thanks for this art analysis to David Nolta, Ph.D., Professor, Massachusetts College of Art and Design/Art Historian Consultant to Masterpiece Cards.