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Joy of Museums

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“Two Old Men Disputing” by Rembrandt

"Two Old Men Disputing" by Rembrandt

“Two Old Men Disputing” by Rembrandt

“Two Old Men Disputing” by Rembrandt depicts two seated men discussing the text of a book. One of the older men points to the page of the book held by the other man. Rembrandt’s skill with dramatic lighting is shown with the brilliant shaft of sunlight falling diagonally to illuminate the object of interest while leaving most of the picture in darkness and shadow.

The contrasting light draws attention to the older man in white, whose beard and wrinkled skin have been beautifully painted. In the shadows, meticulous rendered can be seen in the candle, quill, the ink-stand, the table cloth, and the humble walls in the background.

Both men carry the symbolic white beards of wise philosophers or religious men. The inclusion of many books, a quill, and a globe, further suggests the theme of elderly wisdom. If they are philosophers, it has been suggested that they may be Hippocrates and Democritus.

Others have suggested religious figures such as the apostles Peter and Paul. However, if that was the case, Rembrandt would have included other symbols, such as the keys to the kingdom of heaven for St Peter or a sword for St Paul.

Rembrandt painted several images of anonymous older men and this picture belonging to this genre of honoring the elderly for their authority and experience. Rembrandt completed this painting in his home town of Leiden in 1628 when he was in his early twenties and before he moved permanently to the larger city of Amsterdam in 1631.

Hippocrates and Democritus

Hippocrates (460 –  c. 370 BC) was an ancient Greek physician who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. Hippocrates studied with Democritus (460 – c. 370 BC), who was one of his principal teachers.

Hippocrates is referred to as the “Father of Medicine” in recognition of his contributions as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields, thus establishing medicine as a profession.

Democritus was an Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher primarily remembered today for his formulation of an atomic theory of the universe. Many consider Democritus to be the “father of modern science.”

St Peter and St Paul

Saint Peter (AD 30 – c. 68) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and the first leader of the early Church. St. Paul (AD 5 – c. 67) was an apostle, although not one of the Twelve Apostles, who spread the gospel of Christ to the first-century world.

Paul describes in Galatians how three years after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem. There he first met with Peter for 15 days. Paul is one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age, having founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe. He took advantage of his status as both a Jew and a Roman citizen to minister to both Jewish and Roman audiences.

According to Christian tradition, Peter was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero. He is traditionally counted as the first Bishop of Rome‍.

Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn was an innovative and prolific master draughtsman, painter, and printmaker. He is generally considered one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art and the most important in Dutch art history.

Rembrandt’s works depict a range of styles and subjects, from portraits and self-portraits to landscapes, genre scenes, allegorical and historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes as well as animal studies.

“Two Old Men Disputing” by Rembrandt

  • Title:                Two Old Men Disputing
  • Artist:              Rembrandt
  • Date:               1628
  • Medium:         Oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions:   Height: 72.4 cm (28.5″); Width: 59.7 cm (23.5″)
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Victoria

Rembrandt

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“Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.”
– Rembrandt

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Photo Credit: 1)Rembrandt [Public domain]

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