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Salvator Rosa, 'Philosophy', about 1645

Key facts
Full title Philosophy
Artist Salvator Rosa
Artist dates 1615 - 1673
Date made about 1645
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 116.3 × 94 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the 6th Marquis of Lansdowne in memory of his father, 1933
Inventory number NG4680
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
Salvator Rosa

A scowling man wearing a scholar’s cap and brown gown appears before us. His drapery, wrapped tightly around him, has the smooth, solid look of a sculpted Roman bust. Half of his face is in shadow and the cold lighting emphasises his long, narrow nose, unkempt hair, unshaven face and furrowed brow.

The man thrusts a tablet bearing a Latin inscription towards us – translated, it reads: ‘Keep silent, unless your speech is better than silence.’ The phrase is taken from Stobaeus’s Anthologia, a fifth-century collection of extracts from Greek authors. There has been much debate over the sitter’s identity, but recent scholarship has shown that the figure was originally painted as a personification of philosophy.

Rosa wished to be recognised as a learned painter of philosophical subjects. He produced this work during the early 1640s for Filippo Niccolini, who belonged to the circle of educated men Rosa befriended during his stay in Florence.

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