In this imaginary portrait of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher rests his hand reflectively on a bust of Homer, the epic poet of an earlier age. A medallion depicting Alexander the Great, whom Aristotle tutored, hangs from the gold chain. This extravagant decoration must be an award for service and recalls the gold chains that princely patrons gave to Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyck. It is generally supposed that Aristotle is contemplating the worth of worldly success as opposed to spiritual values. The gestures of the hands, accentuated by the cascading sleeves, and the shadows playing over Aristotle's brow and eyes support this interpretation. The picture was painted for the great Sicilian collector Antonio Ruffo, who evidently had not requested any particular subject. His inventory dated 1 September 1654 lists the canvas as "half-length figure of philosopher made in Amsterdam by the painter named Rembrandt (it appears to be Aristotle or Albertus Magnus)." The ancient and the medieval authors shared an interpretation in the senses, with sight (evoked by Homer's blindness?) judged superior to hearing and touch. In the early 1660s Rembrandt sent Ruffo companion pictures of Alexander and Homer, which suggests that despite his much later costume the figure must be Aristotle (as he is called in Ruffo papers dated 1662). In any case, the study of a figure lost in thought is characteristic of Rembrandt, whose achievement here reflects his longstanding preoccupations with visual and emotional experience.


  • Title: Aristotle with a Bust of Homer
  • Date Created: 1653
  • Physical Dimensions: w1365 x h1435 mm
  • Type: Paintings
  • External Link: MMA
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Provenance Extent: Complete
  • Provenance: Don Antonio Ruffo, principe della Scaletta, Messina, Sicily (1654–73; inv., 1660, [no. 599]); Don Placido Ruffo, principe della Scaletta, Messina (until 1710); Don Antonio Ruffo II, principe della Scaletta, Messina (1710–39); Don Calogero Ruffo, principe della Scaletta, Messina (1739–43); Don Giovanni Ruffo e la Rocca, principe della Scaletta, Messina (1743–55); ?Ruffo family, Messina (from 1755); ?Vaughan (until 1810; sale, Christie's, London, February 17, 1810, no. 113, as "Sculptor with a Bust," for £79.16 to Barnett [with no. 114, "Schoolmaster with his Pupil," the companion, for £32.11, presumably "Homer," now Mauritshuis, The Hague]); Sir Abraham Hume, Ashridge Park, Berkhampstead, Herts. (by 1815–d. 1838; cat., 1824, no. 116, as "Portrait of Cornelius van Hooft"); his grandson, John Hume Cust, Viscount Alford, Ashridge Park (1838–d. 1851); his son, John William Spencer Brownlow Cust, 2nd Earl Brownlow, Ashridge Park (1851–d. 1867); his brother, Adelbert Wellington Brownlow Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow, Ashridge Park (1867–at least 1893); Rodolphe Kann, Paris (by 1897–d. 1905; his estate, 1905–7; cat., 1907, vol. 1, no. 65; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, Paris and New York, 1907; sold to Huntington]; Mrs. Collis P. (Arabella D.) Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, New York (1907–d. 1924); her son, Archer M. Huntington, New York (1924–28; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, New York, 1928; sold for $750,000 to Erikson]; Alfred W. Erickson, New York (1928–30; sold for $500,000 to Duveen); [Duveen, New York, 1930–36; sold for $590,000 to Erickson]; Alfred W. Erickson, New York (d. 1936); his widow, Mrs. Alfred W. Erickson, New York (1936–d. 1961; her estate sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, November 15, 1961, no. 7, to MMA)
  • Medium Extent: Complete
  • Inscription Extent: Complete
  • Inscription: Signed and dated (on pedestal of bust): Rembrandt.f. / 1653.
  • Description Extent: Complete
  • Credit Line Extent: Complete
  • Credit Line: Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961
  • Artist: Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam)

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