The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes by Steven Nadler - review by Jerry Brotton

Jerry Brotton

Pictures of Thought

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


Princeton University Press 230pp £19.95

This book offers a portrait of the philosopher Descartes in every sense of the word. Its author, Steven Nadler, is himself a distinguished philosopher specialising in the radical, dissenting tradition of late Renaissance and early Enlightenment philosophy and art. His previous works on Rembrandt’s depiction of Jews and Spinoza’s secular philosophy have centred on the political, religious and intellectual world of the Low Countries in the 17th century, and he has sought to understand how this region played such a decisive role in bringing to an end the artistic and philosophical outlook of the Renaissance. How, asks Nadler in much of his published work, do we get from Titian and Erasmus to Rembrandt and Descartes? 

The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter tries to solve a rather more modest puzzle within this grander narrative of cultural and historical change. Nadler starts in room 27 of the Louvre, in front of the portrait of Descartes dated to around 1649 which was once attributed to the Dutch

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