At the time of this writing, Rembrandt settled in Amsterdam, but in terms of subject matter and small size, the picture resembles a Leiden period. The central figure was called differently: the philosopher, the scientist. Religious background seems less likely here. Thinkers immersed in reading seemed to fascinate Rembrandt; over the years, he returned to this topic several times.
A life devoted to the study of books, reflections and righteous works may have seemed to Rembrandt particularly attractive compared to his own intense, but vain, secular life, to which a fashionable artist is doomed.