VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)
Oil on canvas, 101 x 81 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Céramique, Rouen
The subject of the painting is the Greek philosopher Democritus expressing his amusement at the world, which stands on the table in front of him in the shape of a globe. The man in the picture stands there smiling, shown half-length, turned to one side but with his face towards us. His right hand is placed on his hip, in an attitude setting off the heavy folds of a red cloak.
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.