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The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes Hardcover – April 21, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

From the Back Cover

"The famous painting of Descartes by Frans Hals that hangs in the Louvre is, in fact, not by Frans Hals. And a similar things-are-not-what-they-seem quality applies to this clever little book. For behind the telling of the story of a clutch of paintings and a group of friends in the seventeenth century, Nadler gives us a brisk and lively account of Descartes' philosophy, which, more than any other, would become the foundation of modernity."--Russell Shorto, author of Descartes' Bones

"This lucid and readable book serves as a biography, an exposition of philosophy, and a rich tapestry of Dutch history and culture."--Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania

"The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter is an excellent introduction for general readers to Descartes and his thought. Nadler brings the story and ideas to life."--Daniel Garber, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691157308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691157306
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #585,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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See all 7 customer reviews
I found the book well researched and written.
Bern
The real page numbers are great, because you can't really refer to the Kindle E-book properly if these are missing.
Theofrastus Nihilus
Instead, the prose is excellent and the book is eminently readable.
R. M. Peterson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Patrican on July 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is about a painting. Descartes is of secondary interest. The subtitle, "A Portrait of Descartes," refers to a specific painting, the one shown on the cover of the book. The title of the book refers to three men of 17th century Holland: Descartes, Augustijn Bloemaert, and Frans Hals. The book starts with a short "Prologue" which is actually an apology for the book. After that come three background chapters, one about each of the three men. Following that is a tediously detailed saga leading up to page 172, where the priest gets the painter to paint "A Portrait of Descartes." A final 25 pages discusses all the other portraits that might or might not be of Descartes.

How can Nadler not be embarrassed by this? The book appears to be a well-padded patchwork of notes left over from his two Spinoza books. The 20-page summary of Descartes' "Meditations" is fine, as far as it goes; at least it introduces the tortured nuances of faith-based science. But Nadler mentions only in passing, with a part of one sentence, Descartes' most significant achievement, by far: his use of algebra to describe geometry, in the system of 'Cartesian coordinates' now in everyday use worldwide. The scattered information about 16th and 17th century Netherlands is interesting, but it's a poor reprise of Nadler's writing in "A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age." That is a really good book, informative and coherently written. This Descartes sequel must be an attempt by Nadler to cash in on his reputation from his Spinoza books.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David B. Johnson on August 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is an example of what I call, for lack of a better term, `popularized intellectual history' where the author takes some interesting historical event or puzzle and uses it to provide a non-technical introduction to a particular thinker. (Other examples of this type of work are Matthew Stewart's The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World which is about whether Leibniz and Spinoza ever met and James R Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment about Bach meeting Frederick the Great.)

Steven Nadler, here, takes a look at the often used depiction of the French philosopher Descartes that hangs in Louvre and examines whether the portrait is by the painter it is usually attributed to or whether it is actually a copy of an earlier formal portrait. Along the way he reviews early Dutch culture and politics, explains why Descartes ended up living in the Netherlands, and the importance of portraiture during this period. He also provides an introduction to Descartes' thought during this period and the reactions of various friends and critics. The analysis of Descartes' writings are presented in a historical fashion.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in a non-technical introduction to Descartes as well as anyone interested in the general milieu and painting history of the early Dutch Enlightenment. Readers well acquainted with Descartes looking for any new philosophical insight into his work should look elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book that combines biography, history, and philosophy in an engaging, instructive fashion. The philosopher is Rene Descartes, the priest is Augustijn Bloemaert, and the painter is Franz Hals. The focal point for the story is a portrait in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. The scholarly consensus is that it is a portrait of Descartes painted by Hals (although some scholars dispute one or both of those points).

Author Nadler's hypothesis, which the book makes eminently plausible, is that the priest Bloemaert, who was a good friend of Descartes, commissioned Hals in 1649 to paint a portrait of Descartes for Bloemaert to remember him by, just before the philosopher sailed for Sweden pursuant to an invitation from Queen Christina to instruct her on philosophy. (In the event, after several months in Sweden Descartes caught pneumonia and died.) In the words of the author, "The portrait of Descartes painted by Hals represents the meeting on Dutch soil * * * between a foreigner who was the greatest philosopher in a century full of great philosophers, and a local artist who was arguably the greatest portrait painter in a century full of great portrait painters."

In developing his hypothesis, Nadler gives us biographical sketches of Descartes and Hals and, to a lesser extent, the priest Bloemaert. He also provides historical context, much of which involves the Catholic/Protestant religious disputes of the seventeenth century, disputes that, anomalously, helped push Descartes, a Catholic, to the nominally Protestant Netherlands for the last two decades of his life.
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