The great Renaissance philosopher Desiderius Erasmus had the honor of his image being captured by two of the world's greatest portrait painters during his lifetime.

Most depictions of Erasmus feature him seated at his desk. Hans Holbein, the Younger painted him this way in his famous portrait. ( Holbein also created engravings for Erasmus' The Praise of Folly and painted Erasmus' life-long friend Sir Thomas More.

When Holbein was visiting a man named Frobien, he doodled a small sketch of Erasmus at his desk in Frobein's copy of Folly. ( Erasmus later visited Frobein and wrote in the same margin that if he were really that handsome, he would be married instead of single.

Albrecht Dürer sketched Erasmus in black chalk in 1520. ( ) No doubt Erasmus expected Durer to paint his portrait eventually, but that portrait was never produced (as far as we know). Durer did produce a famous engraving of the philosopher six years later, but Erasmus complained to a friend that it looked nothing like him. (

I saw a copy of this engraving on the wall of the Hard Rock Café in Washington DC while a friend and I were waiting in the merchandise shop line. The Latin text was replaced with the Hard Rock's logo. "That's Erasmus!" I exclaimed, instantly recognizing the image in an astounding display of geekery. "Who?" she asked. So I explained and she replied, "You're the only person in the building who knows that." Unless the staff of the National Gallery was out drinking at the Hard Rock that night, she might have been right.

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