Tag Archives: Rembrandt

St. Aquinas Was Right (Part 3)

Continuing from my previous post, there is one other work of art that I would like to discuss that vividly demonstrates the need for love of neighbor to cross the threshold to happiness.

This second work of art is the masterpiece, The Night Watch, by Rembrandt.  In this painting we see the the two main characters as leaders of a band of men dedicated to protecting their community.  The leaders are wealthy, respected, and honored for their duty.  However, they also exhibit wisdom and courage, are not tempted by money, power, or fame, and are dedicated to providing security to the community under their watch.

Perhaps the most detail of the painting is the little girl in the background.  She is illuminated in expressing her thanks for the safety provided by the band of men.  She is the depiction of the love of neighbor or the appreciation for the calling of the leaders and their men.  She brings to life the happiness of the others in the painting.  Without this little girl, the painting would be an incomplete representation of happiness.  While all the other needs as expressed by Aristotle and Maslow are present in the picture, it is the little girl that pulls the men across the threshold and into happiness.  The men have no further needs or desires.  Their calling is complete; happiness is achieved and society flourishes through the safety they prove their community.

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)
The two leaders in the center, bathed in light, represent the heroes returning from the trials of the Adventure. They are separate from the others, but able to move between the world of community guardians and their everyday existence. They display a successful past, autonomy, concern for the welfare of their community (represented by the illuminated little girl expressing appreciation and thanks), a rich appreciation for life, strong interpersonal relationships, and self-sufficiency. 
Like the Rockwell painting, this painting presents not only individual happiness fully-realized, but the flourishing of one’s community (or family).  What a great representation of a great outcome!

The Journey – Artists and Philosophers (Part 1)

Let me summarize the previous four posts:

1) Van Gogh – First Maslow need satisfied with food and warmth provided by family.

2) Brueghel the Elder – Second Maslow need satisfied with safety provided by community.

3) Renoir – Third Maslow need satisfied with a sense of belonging and flow experiences achieved with friends.

4) Rembrandt – Forth Maslow need satisfied with a sense of self-esteem and further flow experiences expressed by family and friends.

These four paintings, all with the dining table as the center of action, depict the satisfaction of the first four needs of Maslow.  But what do the philosopher say?

In my previous posts I mentioned the Epicurus was right up to a point.

Epicurus agreed with the other ancient philosophers that the aim of life is happiness; however, he defined happiness as tranquility and freedom from pain and anxiety – the “good life.” In psychological terms, the Epicurean state of happiness is the satisfaction of Maslow’s first four needs of his hierarchy (achieved through a loving family, just society, and flow experiences).  Remember, it is the flow experiences that distance oneself from the worries of the everyday world; however, you can’t approach these experiences without first having satisfied the basic needs of food and safety.

The above paragraph is very remarkable: 1) we have a great philosopher, Epicurus, whose philosophy closely matches that of modern psychology regarding the necessity of a loving family, a just society, and flow experiences to lead one to a state free of pain and anxiety, 2) the same philosophy matching the first four of five levels of needs satisfaction of modern psychology driving human behavior, and 3) that a life free from pain and anxiety is one that avoids excessive greed, fame, and power, those things that will never lead to tranquility and happiness.

In summary, we can go so far as to say that the end of the Journey, the “good life,” is the aim of Epicureanism. Or, to put it another way, the Journey segment of the road to happiness is philosophically one of Epicureanism. It is the best approach ethically for completing the Journey. Seek out flow experiences and you will have friendships, family love, financial comfort, and a sense of self-esteem. Not a bad life, in fact, a “good life.” But, not happiness. You also need the Adventure!

The Journey as Portrayed by Four Artists (Part 4)

In my last three posts, I presented three paintings centered around a meal.  The Van Gogh painting illustrated the need for food, being satisfied through the family.

The Brueghel the Elder painting illustrates the need for safety, being satisfied through one’s family as well as one’s community.

The Renoir painting illustrates the need for belongingness and friendship being satisfied through one’s friends.  It is the need for flow experiences, distancing one from the worries of the everyday world,  that this “involvement” activity satisfies. But this activity can only be  pursued if the previous needs have been satisfied by one’s family and community.

The fourth painting, representing the final segment of the Journey, is by Rembrandt.  This painting represents the attainment of the “good life.”  It presents a man who has achieved much in life, a position achieved by one who has developed self-esteem.  The satisfaction of the self-esteem need (Maslow’s fourth need) is achieved through engaging in “exposure” activities.  These activities distance the individual from others and leads to recognition, prestige, and the goodwill of others – self-esteem.  The desire for further flow is the catalyst for the individual to engage in these “exposure” activities, which, if successful, lead to the satisfaction of the self-esteem need.


This painting expresses the artist’s ideal of a man successful in his vocation. This ideal includes a woman (his first wife) and ale in hand, fine clothes, fine food, and attractive surroundings. The main character is shown as healthy and sociable, proud of his material possessions, and willing to share them with friends. The visual richness of the sword attests to his earlier vocational successes and status in life. The painting reflects a life of materialistic preoccupation that would preclude any serious human revelation by the artist at this time. The character is simply enjoying the “good life.”

How do these paintings reflect philosophical teachings will be discussed next.

Understanding Moral Decisions – Part 6

Summarizing my previous five posts: for those that are attempting to lead good moral lives there are three basic moral philosophies: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

I believe that consequentialism, while possibly noble, is one that deemphasize individual choice and performance for the sake of the good of society.  As such, it can be used to justify actions that are harmful to individuals for the sake of the social good.  This philosophy robs the individual of his/her pursuit of happiness and the future flourishing of society.  Ii is very difficult to accept the premise that the ends justify the means, and that the individual is subservient to the will of society.

I believe that deontology, the most widely accepted of the three philosophies, also while possibly noble, is one that emphasizes the individual and his/her actions, but without regard for the consequences of those actions.  Just following what one believes to be the duty or obligation for certain actions, without considering the consequences of those actions, leaves the individual and society at risk.

I believe that virtue ethics is the only philosophy that is concerned with the individual making the right decisions for the right reasons.  The virtues found in good people make sure that this happens.  The virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and love of neighbor, are displayed throughout the fine arts as the models for achieving happiness and the flourishing of society.  A person who possess all or some of the virtues will lead to good actions.  In other words, a good action will only come from a good person, and a good person is one who has earned or is earning the virtues.

Not only do the great masters of the fine arts present the virtues a necessary for good actions, but the great myths, great philosophers, and modern positive psychologists also support the earning of the virtues through hard work and preparation as necessary for a moral life and one that leads to individual happiness.

The virtues are the catalysts for the individual to seek out and capture the boon that is the gift to society.  The virtues (of which at least wisdom and courage are earned from a loving family, and involvement and exposure activities earlier in life before acceptance of the call to adventure) are the instruments by which the individual is awarded happiness and society flourishes.

Let me illustrate with three great artworks:

The Morning Bell by Homer

The Morning Bell by Winslow Homer (1871)

Above is Homer’s interpretation of the acceptance of the call to adventure (Gallery Four in my book).  The girl has the wisdom to see her future course of action and the courage to follow the path, even though it is uncertain where the path will lead her.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer (1865)

In this painting, another one by Homer, we have the adventurer who has fought the many trials and has captured the boon for his society (the end of the Civil War, as displayed in Gallery Five of my book).  He is displaying the virtues of temperance and justice (concern for the common good) – wisdom and courage to accept the adventure were earned earlier before battle.  But one thing is missing, happiness – the veteran has not yet been recognized for his efforts by his fellow countrymen.


The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

The Night Watch by Rembrandt (1642)

In this masterpiece by Rembrandt, we see the protectors of the community being lauded by the military followers as well as the citizens (depicted by the little girl).  They have fought the many battles to capture the boon (safety and security of the community) and have been able to return back to the everyday world as a result of the love and admiration of their friends and neighbors (as seen in Gallery Six of my book).

This great Rembrandt painting illustrates that it is the responsibility of individuals and not the state to determine the future of the community (consequentialism is not supported in this painting).  Also, the painting illustrates that the mere duty or obligation of the few military men to protect the community is not sufficient as well.  The lighting and the placement of the small girl, representing the common community that it relying on the military men, is prominent in the painting, and for a special reason.  She represents the admiration and love for the heroes that have returned from the adventure: it is she, the personification of love of neighbor, who is welcoming the men across the threshold back to the everyday world (a personification missing in the Homer painting above).  It is this love of neighbor that brings happiness to the men (who have earned the virtues to succeed in the adventure) and the gift of their boon of protection to their society.  A mere sense of duty (deontology) would not have been sufficient.  It is the application of the virtues that makes this painting a masterpiece.

Self-Esteem 1: Artworks

Below are some works of art that express the feelings of those who are trying to achieve self-esteem.  In these works, the characters have separated themselves from others by being members of a group dedicated to a certain task.  They have not been exposed to actual gains and losses of reputation or finances – that will come later.

The Governor’s of the Guild of St. Luke, Haarlem

(De Bray, 1675, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Members of the Guild, Haarlem by De Bray De Bray was known for painting upper-class members of Dutch society in the guise of antique heroes.  This painting is no exception.  In this scene the members of the painter’s guild express self-confidence in their call to service of the guild.  The artist even depicted himself the man second from the left holding a tablet.  This is not only an illustration of the belongingness need being satisfied, but also a depiction of the “first-order exposure” need being satisfied by being a member of the highly selective painter’s guild.  The self-esteem need of the artist holding the tablet may be satisfied further through the work of art that he is creating, assuming it meets the high standards of his peers within the guild.

The Night Watch, The Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq

(Rembrandt, 1642, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Night Watch painting by Rembrandt

This painting was first seen depicting the safety need being satisfied by a functional society, and then again depicting the satisfaction of the belongingness need.  It is presented again to represent the satisfaction of the “first-order exposure” need.  This need is satisfied by the men being members of a select militia dedicated to the guardianship of their community. 

Lakme, The Flower Song (Delibes, 1881-1882)

This aria for two sopranos is one of the most recognizable of all arias ever written.  Lakme, the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and her servant, Mallika, sing this music piece together as they go to gather flowers at a river.  The aria depicts characters that begin to separate themselves from others but not to the extent that they are exposed to others in the community.  They are alone, by themselves at a river, with exposure only to one another.  This is a prime example of satisfying the “first-order exposure” need.