Peter Paul Rubens The Four Philosophers (Self-portrait with brother Philip, Justus Lipsius e Joannes Woverius)


Uffizi Gallery


1611 - 1612


1390 x 1640 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The painting is a self-portrait, representing him first on the left, his brother Philip and on the right humanist friends Justus Lipsius and Joannes Woverius with his dog Mopsulus. On the top right there is an ancient bust of Seneca next to a vase of tulips. In the background behind them there is a red raised curtain which opens to a view on a landscape with the ruins of Palatino hill and the church of San Teodoro in Rome. The four men are talking around a table which is covered with an oriental carpet as well as books, pens and inkwells. The painting is known as the Four Philosophers or Justus Lipsius and His Students. In fact, it’s a tribute to the Flemish philosopher who was Ruben’s teacher. Justus wears a black robe decorated with fur and he is commenting on a book which he holds open with his left hand. Others are listening to him, Philip holding a pen and looking at the observer, while Woverius is looking serious and concentrated. The marble bust of Seneca was in the collection of Fulvio Orsini, librarian of Cardinal Farnese and friend of Rubens, who bought a copy of a bust for his collection in 1606. The artwork alludes to Justus’ studies on the ancient philosopher and his texts, while the tulips refer to the transitory nature of human affairs and to Lipsius and Philip’s deaths in 1606 and 1611. For the depiction of Justus Lipsius Rubens used a portrait by Abraham Jansses. In the end of the 17th century the painting was in the Medici collections of Palazzo Pitti. Johann Zoffany painted the work in his famous view of the Tribuna of the Uffizi between 1772 and 1778. In the spring of 1799 the French took the painting to Paris where it was put on display in Musée Napoleon with many other Italian paintings. It stayed there until 1815 when it was returned to Florence. There are many copies of the painting, like those in Belgium (private collection) and one canvas in Musée des Beaux Arts of Nancy.

Artist Details

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Rubens was born in Siegen, Germany in 1587 but his family moved to Antwerp when he was only two years old where he trained as a painter.

Rubens attended several workshops before meeting Otto van Veen who became his most important teacher. In 1598 the artist joined the guild of San Luca and two years after he left for Italy. He stayed in Venice, Mantua, Florence, Genoa and Rome where he copied the works of great master for his patron Vincenzo Gonzaga. In Mantua he became the duke’s court painter.

He stayed in Rome between 1601 and 1602 and he also left several of his works there such as the Lamentation Over the Dead Christ (Rome, Galleria Borghese) and Martyrdom of St. Sebastion (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica) where you can already see the influence of the 16th-century Venetian painting.

In 1603 Rubens stayed in Madrid at the house of Philip III of Spain on a diplomatic mission on behalf of Vincenzo Gonzaga, studying the royal collections and copying the works of Titian. The following year he returned to Mantua and traveled to Rome and Genoa, where he made various portraits for the local aristocracy, such as the equestrian portrait of Giovanni Carlo Doria (Genoa, Palazzo Spinola) or the portrait of Marquise Brigida Spinola Doria (Washington, National Gallery) both from 1606.

At the end of 1608 he returned to Antwerp and in 1609 archdukes Albert and Isabella appointed him their court painter. He married Isabella Brant and opened a very successful workshop which was often involved on important decorative tasks such as the painting of the thirty-nine canvases for the ceiling of the Jesuit church of Antwerp (1620) which unfortunately were later destroyed in a fire in 1718, or the decoration of the gallery of the Luxembourg Palace with the Stories of Maria de’ Medici. This commission was made in 1621 by Maria de’ Medici, Queen of France and widow of Henry IV. He finished the work in 1625.

After the death of his wife in 1626, Rubens traveled again to France, Spain, Holland and England where he decorated the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall (London, 1629 – 1634).

In 1630 he returned to Antwerp and got married again while continuing his artistic activities; he made several portraits of his wife and children, he worked on tapestry drawings with the stories of Achilles (1630 – 1632) and he decorated the hunting lodge of Torre de la Parada near Madrid with the Metamorphoses of Ovid (1637 – 1638).

Rubens, who was also a notable collector of artworks, died in Antwerp in 1640.

Collection Details

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The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.

The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.

The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.

The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.

Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.

After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.

During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.

In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.

The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.

In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.