What We Are Reading Today: The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter

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Updated 20 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter

In the Louvre museum hangs a portrait that is considered the iconic image of René Descartes, the great 17th-century French philosopher. 

And the painter of the work? The Dutch master Frans Hals — or so it was long believed, until the work was downgraded to a copy of an original. But where is the authentic version, and who painted it? Is the man in the painting — and in its original — really Descartes?

A unique combination of philosophy, biography, and art history, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter investigates the remarkable individuals and circumstances behind a small portrait.

Through this image — and the intersecting lives of a brilliant philosopher, a Catholic priest, and a gifted painter — Steven Nadler opens a fascinating portal into Descartes’s life and times, skillfully presenting an accessible introduction to Descartes’s philosophical and scientific ideas, and an illuminating tour of the volatile political and religious environment of the Dutch Golden Age.

 As Nadler shows, Descartes’s innovative ideas about the world, about human nature and knowledge, and about philosophy itself, stirred great controversy. Philosophical and theological critics vigorously opposed his views, and civil and ecclesiastic authorities condemned his writings. Nevertheless, Descartes’s thought came to dominate the philosophical world of the period, and can rightly be called the philosophy of the 17th century.

 Shedding light on a well-known image, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter offers an engaging exploration of a celebrated philosopher’s world and work.

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin — Madison. His books include Rembrandt’s Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; and A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age (Princeton).


All-star Mary Poppins sequel flies into view

Updated 18 September 2018
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All-star Mary Poppins sequel flies into view

  • The movie includes mixed live-action and animation scenes that are reminiscent of those that were cutting edge in the mid-1960s
  • “Mary Poppins Returns” is set for a pre-Christmas release in Britain and the United States

A view across the grimy rooftops of London? A nanny descending to earth with a flying umbrella? Dick Van Dyke? All are present and correct in the trailer for the “Mary Poppins” reboot that was released on Tuesday.
Julie Andrews, who won the 1965 Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the original, is replaced in “Mary Poppins Returns” by Emily Blunt as the unconventional governess who arrives as if by magic to heal a family in need of love.
In the sequel, it is 1932 and the boy, Michael Banks, has grown up and, helped by his sister Jane, is bringing up children of his own, in the absence of their mother.
The trailer gives few other clues to the plot of the musical, but showcases a stellar cast of British acting talent, including Ben Whishaw, Colin Firth and Julie Walters.
Meryl Streep also features, as does Dick Van Dyke who played the chimney sweep Bert with the so-bad-it’s-good cockney accent in the original. Now 92, the trailer shows him as lithe as ever, dancing on a table.
The Bert character — Jack in this film — is played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the rapper and composer who created the acclaimed musical “Hamilton.”
The movie includes mixed live-action and animation scenes that are reminiscent of those that were cutting edge in the mid-1960s but have a retro-charm now.
The original movie was based on the children’s books by P.L. Travers who famously objected to Walt Disney’s embellishments to her stories. It was a huge success and became a classic.
“Mary Poppins Returns” is set for a pre-Christmas release in Britain and the United States.