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Three Philosophers

Giorgione1508/1509

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

In his Notizia d’opere del disegno (1523–1541) the Venetian art collector Marcantonio Michiel draws up an inventory of eleven private picture collections: “[…] The oil painting with the three philosophers set against a landscape […] with these truly wonderfully painted rocks […].” According to his account, this large work was in the possession of the Venetian merchant Taddeo Contarini in 1525. At the end of the 16th century it was acquired by Bartolomeo della Nave, also a merchant and collector. It first came to England after his death and in the mid-17th century was finally purchased for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Brussels collection. There it was cut down by 17.5 cm on the left side, so that the depiction of nature which had originally formed a remarkably large part of the painting was considerably reduced and the slight asymmetry often found in Giorgione’s compositions was somewhat lessened. Despite the early and rather general identification of the depicted figures as “philosophers”, there have been numerous other interpretations, none of which, however, has succeeded in explaining all the details. Are the three figures the Three Kings, astronomers, representatives of three religions or the rival exponents of painting, philosophy and astrology? Recently, Pythagoras and his two teachers, Thales und Pherecydes, have also been mentioned. The features usually cited in these varied interpretations are the compasses and the square, which the seated and youngest of the three men is holding in his hands and which are seen as attributes of a painter (?), the varied origins of the three figures’ attire and the astronomical writings held on the far right by the eldest of the three men. Undisputed is the artistic importance of this major work of Venetian painting. The intensity of colour and light, the juxtaposition of sharply contoured surfaces and blurred outlines (sfumato) in connection with the probably intended cryptic message create a mysterious mood and atmosphere, particularly because of the ambiguity of the portrayal. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

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Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

Three Philosophers (Supplemental)

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