Did Rembrandt make a portrait of Descartes? I came across this aside in Mariët Westermann's book Rembrandt (Phaidon, 2000):
"An eighteenth-century record of a drawing by Rembrandt of Descartes, unfortunately lost, hints that the artist may have met the philosopher.' (p.13).
They shared a patron in Constantijn Hugygens, so surely would have at least known about each other if not met. How intriguing too that both should have been obsessed in different ways with the self. Rembrandt's self-portraits, despite some art historians' stubborn attempts to declare them simply tronies (genre character studies) - are deep investigations of his changing appearance and the self that is revealed through this (incidentally, by far the best book on this topic is H. Perry Chapman's Rembrandt's Self-Portraits (Princeton, 1990) - she reads the paintings as a quest for individual identity - against the counterintuitive majority art historical view). Descartes' cogito obviously puts the self as thinking thing at the centre; but from a literary point of view too, the Discourse on Method and the Meditations with their first person narratives have strong parallels with Rembrandt's investigations of reality from the viewpoint of the reflective self.
Surprisingly, I can't find any art historians who make the first person links between these two geniuses. Descartes is usually just brought in as part of the cultural background in art historical writing.
Does anyone know of any comparative discussion of these contemporaries' self-obsessions? And does anyone know more about the putative portrait of Descartes?
This sounds like raw material for one of those two-hander rather didactic plays about ideas...with Descartes chatting about his discoveries while Rembrandt paints him, surrounded by self-portraits.