The Four Philosophers (Peter Paul Rubens, 1611-12)

Self-portrait with Justus Lipsius, Philip Rubens, and Jan Wowerius, known as The Four Philosophers - Peter Paul Rubens - c. 1611-12

Artwork Information

TitleSelf-portrait with Justus Lipsius, Philip Rubens, and Jan Wowerius, known as The Four Philosophers
ArtistPeter Paul Rubens
Datec. 1611-12
MediumOil on panel
Dimensions167 x 143 cm
Art MovementExpressionism
Current LocationPitti, Florence

About Self-portrait with Justus Lipsius, Philip Rubens, and Jan Wowerius, known as The Four Philosophers


Peter Paul Ruben painted the Self Portrait with Justus Lipsius, Philip Rubens, and Jan Woweris, which is also commonly known as The Four Philosophers, in 1611-12. The painting is made of oil on the panel. The painting is under the Galleria Palatina of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

What is depicted in The Four Philosophers?

The Four Philosophers depicts four gentlemen in conversation with each other. Interestingly, the composition and the stance of the figure appear like modern-day-photograph quality. The two men look at the painter while the other two stare at them as if trying to convince an argument or listening to what he is preaching. All are seated around a table with exotic upholstery. A few books are placed on the table. Two men hold a few documents with their hands in an expression of conversation. Rubens has deftly painted the facial expressions of each of them. The far-reaching backdrop shows an outdoor view of the landscape, which probably is an open window. On the right wall is a bust of what appears to be an ancient thinker. Painted in a sombre as well as a bright platter, the painting shows the qualities of art movements like Renaissance, Mannerism as well as Baroque. These four gentlemen are Justus Lipsius, Philip Rubens, Jan Wowerius, and Rubens himself.

The Four Philosophers – Analysis

As the title, The Four Philosophers, suggests, the painting shows the lead-philosopher Justus Lipsius in the centre surrounded by his pupils, which includes the artist himself, too. Lipsius was the founder of the philosophical movement called Stoicism. To the extreme left is Rubens followed by his brother Philip and to the extreme right is Joannes Woverius. The sculptural bust on the right wall is of Seneca, which is now considered the portrait of the Greek poet, Hesiod. This is a symbolic rendering of homage to ancient Hellenistic culture. Moreover, there is a resemblance in the appearance of the artist and his brother. Scholars have also derived that the painting is a perception of the artists with a detached demeanour.

As opposed to the Renaissance norm of portraying the significant individual in a larger size than others, Rubens painted Lipsius with a brighter robe than his pupils. The reason was to make him stand out from the ones who were still at the initial stage of learning the mentioned  philosophy. At the same time, the realistic representation concerning the facial expression is explicit and conveying. Rubens has captured a lifelike essence of thinking while learning. The artist was one of the prominent artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Painting in the Flemish Baroque style, he is known to have depicted the subject of religion and mythology in his works. Notably, his works show a palpable influence of the Italian Renaissance, which was quite general among dutch painters. Effortlessly merging the two styles, his compositions are intense, compact and derive concepts from Christian history and new age philosophies of the time. In addition, Robens, through his repertoire of images, colour and drama, remarked on the issues of contemporary society.

Related Artworks

Rubens’s several paintings follow a similar style of rendition and application. The Four Philosophers is one of the representations that becomes a retelling of the narrative that Rubens imagined while intending to spread the new philosophy of Stoicism. A few of the artworks that relate to The Four Philosophers are Self-Portrait in a Circle of Friends from Mantua in 1602 and The Four Evangelists in 1614. Interestingly, the Self Portrait in a Circle of Friends from Mantua also depicts Rubens’s brother and the lead philosopher, Justus Lipsius, just like in The Four Philosophers. Apart from depicting himself in the painting, Rubens also painted themes that showed philosophers at work in the picture. Such dynamic quality is quite vivid in The Four Evangelists.

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