Three Philosophers
c. 1508/09
canvas, 123 x 144 cm
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The intended meaning of The Three Philosophers has always been controversial: do the three men symbolise the Three Ages of Man, are they representatives of three philosophical or mathematical schools, or are they perhaps the Three Magi - we just do not know. The original title, "Three Philosophers in a Landscape...with That Wonderfully Painted Rock...", refers to what was then new and revolutionary in Girgione's art: in this painting, landscape is just as important as the figures. Equally novel was Giorgione's way of painting based on the effect of colour. He replaced the geometrically constructed linear perspective with the "visually experienced" optical perspective, the "sfumato", where blurred contours and colours create the illusion of depth.

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