Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione (ca. 1477–1510)
The Three Philosophers, ca. 1508–9
Oil on canvas
49 7/16 × 57 9/16 in. (125.6 × 146.2 cm)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
It is unclear if the Three Philosophers was painted by Giorgione for Taddeo Contarini or if—as with Bellini's St. Francis—Contarini purchased it from its original owner. When Marcantonio Michiel described it, in 1525, he did not seem to know who the “three philosophers in a landscape” were. The meaning of this painting remains shrouded in mystery to this day. While the painting has traditionally been seen as representing the Three Kings who followed the star to Bethlehem to worship the newborn Christ and to bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, it more likely depicts three philosophers from antiquity. More specifically, according to the most recent proposal, the three men may be identified with the Greek philosopher Pythagoras and his two teachers: Thales of Miletus and Pherecydes of Syros.