VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)
Oil on canvas, 179 x 94 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The satirical tradition had spread throughout Europe via the humanists, and Velázquez's knowledge of it is evident in his use of ideal types in portraits of the Cynic philosopher Menippus and the Greek composer of animal fables Aesop, possibly painted for the hunting lodge Torre de la Parada, near the Buen Retiro Palace. Both figures are shown full length and would have made suitable counterparts to the pictures of Democritus and Heraclitus by Rubens in the Torre de la Parada. It was here, too, that many of Velázquez's portraits of court fools and dwarfs were hung.
Aesop had, during Classical antiquity, been seen in conjunction with the Seven Sages; Menippus was known as a castigator of hack philosophers, whom he satirised in different literary genres.
The two portraits of philosophers, together with the portraits of fools and dwarfs, were intended to warn the king not to lose touch with the common people and their wisdom.