RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
Oil on canvas, 179 x 66 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The subject of the painting is the Greek philosopher Democritus expressing his amusement at the world, which he holds in the shape of a globe. Democritus, who lived around 470-360 BC, taught that cheerful and moderate contentment was the way to happiness. European painting of the Renaissance and Baroque periods repeatedly portrayed him as the "laughing philosopher", contrasting him with other intellectual types such as the pessimist, the stoic and the cynic.
Rubens painted Democritus for the Duke of Lerma, to accompany a Mourning Heraclitus. From 1638 these two pictures were in the Torre de la Parada, the king of Spain's hunting lodge in the Pardo mountains near Madrid, for which Rubens and his pupils had painted mythological and hunting scenes ten years earlier.