Descartes’s other side

Catherine Wilson in the Times Litererary Supplement:

ScreenHunter_631 May. 20 15.47Many people think of René Descartes as a philosopher who persuaded himself that he was aware only of his own ideas, a dualist who thought experience did not require a body, and as a metaphysician deeply preoccupied with the topics of substance, causation and the nature of God. How this imaginary figure emerged from the anti-scholastic student of animals, snowflakes, crystals, mathematics, music and optics, the mind–body theorist and inventor of the impressive hypothesis of the celestial vortices distinctly recognized in the eighteenth century, remains something of a mystery. Meanwhile, the two books under review leave no doubt that there is more to say about Descartes and more to learn.

Steven Nadler has produced another gem of original research and lively and lucid writing. The point of departure of The Philosopher, the Priest and the Painter is the rough portrait of Descartes by Frans Hals in the National Gallery of Denmark that is believed to have served as the basis for the multiply reproduced version by an unknown artist that hangs in the Louvre. Nadler makes a good case for his hypothesis that the Hals original was affectionately commissioned by Augustijn Bloemaert, a lively and rebellious Catholic priest of nearby Harlem, on the eve of Descartes’s departure in 1649 from his last residence in Holland, in the small coastal village of Egmond de Addij, for the Swedish court, where he died the following winter.

More here.