COYPEL, Charles-Antoine
(b. 1694, Paris, d. 1752, Paris)

Cheerful Democritus

Oil on canvas, 92 x 74 cm
Private collection

This painting and its companion piece, Sorrowful Heraclitus, depict two men with diametrically opposed views of the world. The subjects of the paintings are the Greek philosophers Democritus of Abdera and Heraclitus of Ephesus. Their views of life could not have been more different: Democritus never stopped laughing at the follies of humankind while Heraclitus wept continuously over the condition of the world. There are numerous representations of them in Greek and Roman art and literature, but the theme fell out of favour in post-classical art and was not revived until the late 15th century. By about 1600 Democritus and Heraclitus once again became a popular subject, particularly in the Netherlands, and the philosophers are depicted either in pairs or a single composition.

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