In November 2019, Koller Auctions solicited my opinion about the authorship of Laughing Democritus. The high density jpeg accompanying their query allowed me to see the picture in color for the first time. However, the canvas was dirty and obscured by discolored varnish. For that reason, I opined that it must have originated in Baburen’s workshop. My recent inspection of a jpeg of the picture in a cleaned state (but before it had been retouched and revarnished) has now led me to confirm its authenticity. Monogrammed and dated 1622, Laughing Democritus bears all the hallmarks of Baburen’s influential style as it evolved after his return to Utrecht in late 1620 or early 1621. The bold, palpable naturalism of the painting, the half- length rendition of the philosopher, whose form is abruptly truncated at the edges of the canvas, and the raking light that enhances his plasticity were all devices that Baburen had already begun to incorporate into the history paintings he made during his years in Italy. Only in Utrecht, these devices were further adjusted to place them at the service of paintings characterized by vigorous, schematic brushwork, stylized garments composed of broad, flat planes of color, and expansive figures whose emphatic earthiness easily transcends those of his Italian antecedents.13
As for specific Utrecht-period paintings to which Laughing Democritus can be compared, the use of delicate peach-colored tones to articulate the effects of streaming light on the white cloth under the figure’s hat and on his shoulders finds a parallel in the undergarments of the three protagonists in Baburen’s Amsterdam Chaining of Prometheus of 1623.14 More significantly, the figure’s striking off-the- shoulder garment with a blue striped sleeve recalls that of the Utrecht Youth Playing a Mouth Harp of 1621 and the Cleveland Merry Violinist of 1623 (fig. 3).15 This fanciful garb, which ultimately owes something to the early work of Caravaggio, can be properly categorized as all'antica.
The aforementioned pendant to Laughing Democritus is Weeping Heraclitus (fig. 2), which is likewise inscribed T. B. fecit Ano 1622. The pictures are nearly identical in size and share complementary compositions.16 Their subject matter is linked as well and flourished in early seventeenth-century Netherlandish art. Although the real Democritus (ca. 465-ca. 360 B.C.) and Heraclitus (ca. 540-ca. 480 B.C.) were counted among the more important of the pre-Socratic philosophers, it is only their later legend, as told by Cicero (106-43 B.C.) and other Roman sources, which provided the impetus for this important theme in the visual arts, especially in The Netherlands after 1600.17 According to these sources, when the two philosophers viewed the follies of the world, Heraclitus wept while Democritus laughed.18
The theme of the weeping and laughing philosophers began its post-classical history with Marsillo Ficino (1433-1499), the famous Florentine humanist, who appears to have actually owned a painting of Heraclitus and Democritus together, flanking a globe representing the world.19 A fresco by Donato Bramante (1444- 1514)20 of circa1485-1490--perhaps the earliest surviving painting of our two philosophers in this manner--once part of the decorations of the Casa Panigorala in Milan, may reflect the arrangement of Ficino's lost work. This fresco, and thus the theme, was well known during the sixteenth century and was described by the Milanese painter and theorist Gian Paolo Lomazzo (1538-1592) in 1584.21
In the Northern Netherlands, Karel van Mander (1548-1606) reports that Cornelis Ketel (1548-1616) painted the two philosophers no less than three times between 1599 and 1602.22 Ketel, however, used both compositional types, one with both figures on a single panel, as well as a pendant pair of paintings, each with one of the philosophers.23 Terbrugghen himself followed suit, painting Laughing Democritus and Weeping Heraclitus on two separate occasions, once together and once in pendant pairs.24 Those latter pendants, now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are signed and dated 1628 (figs. 4 and 5). By contrast, our picture and its pendant are monogrammed and dated 1622. They are therefore highly significant because they are earliest known pendant depictions of Laughing Democritus and Weeping Heraclitus in Utrecht.25 They thus serve to corroborate further Baburen’s reputation as a thematic innovator.
1. The following remarks concerning Baburen’s biography, are largely drawn from Marten Jan Bok, “Dirck Jaspersz. van Baburen,” in: Utrecht, Centraal Museum, Nieuw Licht op de Gouden Eeuw; Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (cat. by Albert Blankert et al.), 1986-87, pp. 173-75; Idem, “De verwanten van de kunstschilder Dirck van Baburen (Wijk bij Duurstede ca. 1595 - 1624 Utrecht),” De Nederlandsche Leeuw 115 nos. 1-3 (1998), cols. 52-65. A reassessment of the extant archival documents concerning Baburen and his family has led me to conclude that the artist was not born around 1595, as is customarily claimed, but two or three years earlier, that is, circa 1592/93; see Wayne Franits, The Paintings of Dirck van Baburen ca. 1592/93-1624: Catalogue Raisonné, Amsterdam - Philadelphia 2013.
2. See also Baburen’s Granida and Daifilo (Private Collection); Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 154-56 cat. no. A31, plate 31; and Achilles before the Dead Body of Patroclus (Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister); Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 166- 68 cat. no. A36, plate 36.
3. For Moreelse, see Eric Domela Nieuwenhuis, Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638), Proefschrift, University of Leiden, 2001. Moreelse was also an accomplished architect and a member of Utrecht’s town council.
4. For Rome in the seventeenth century, see Peter van Kessel and Elisja Schulte, eds., Rome * Amsterdam: Two Growing Cities in Seventeenth-Century Europe, Amsterdam 1997. For the Roman art market, see Patrizia Cavazzini, Painting as Business in Early Seventeenth-Century Rome, University Park 2008; and Richard E. Spear, “Rome: Setting the Stage,” in: Painting for Profit. The Economic Lives of Seventeenth-Century Italian Painters, ed. by Richard E. Spear and Philip Sohm, New Haven - London 2010, pp. 33-113.
5. In the mid-1980's, Carel van Tuyll discovered a reference in a late eighteenth- century manuscript to an altarpiece of the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian that Baburen painted for the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Parma in 1615; see Bok, “Dirck Jaspersz. van Baburen,” op cit. (note 1), p. 175 n. 25.
6. For this painting, in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, see Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 92-94 cat. no. A4, plate 4.
7. Wayne Franits, “‘Laboratorium Utrecht.’ Baburen, Honthorst und Terbrugghen im künstlerischen Austausch,” in: Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum, Caravaggio in Holland: Musik und Genre bei Caravaggio und den Utrechter Caravaggisten (cat. by Jochen Sander et al.), 2009, pp. 37-53, explores issues of appropriation and emulation among Utrecht Caravaggist painters.
8. See Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 137-40 cat. no. A26, plate 26; pp. 154-56, A31, plate 31.
9. See Bok, “De verwanten van de kunstschilder Dirck van Baburen,” op cit. (note 1), col 65; Bok, “Dirck Jaspersz. van Baburen,” op cit. (note 1), pp. 174, 175 n. 38, for the relevant documents.
10. For the plague in Utrecht, see Ronald Rommes, “De pest in en rond Utrecht,” Jaarboek Oud Utrecht (1991), pp. 93-120; and for the Netherlands in general, Leo Noordegraaf and Gerrit Valk, De Gave Gods, De pest in Holland vanaf de late Middeleeuwen, Bergen 1988. Recently, Marten Jan Bok, “Utrecht, a Libertine City,” in: Utrecht, Centraal Museum, Utrecht Caravaggio and Europe (cat. by Liesbeth M. Helmus et al.), 2018-19, p. 32, has suggested that Baburen may not have died of the plague after all. Rather he might have fallen ill as a result of having to defend Utrecht (along with members of his civic guard company) from a potential Spanish siege during the bitter winter of 1624.
11. The date in parentheses indicates that the picture was in this collection in 1965, when Leonard J. Slatkes’s monograph on Baburen was first published.
12. J. van den Burg, “Atelier Practices in the Seventeenth Century: The Question of a Common Workshop by Ter Brugghen and Van Baburen”, Bachelor of art history thesis, University of Amsterdam 2009. For the generally thorny problem of assessing the work of artists vis-à-vis that of their workshop assistants, see Jaap van der Veen, “By His Own Hand. The Valuation of Autograph Paintings in the 17th Century,” in: A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, ed. by Ernst van de Wetering, Dordrecht 2005, pp. 14-17, passim; Anna Tummers, The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and His Contemporaries, Amsterdam 2011.
13. Albert Blankert, “Caravaggio en Noord-Nederland,” in: Utrecht, Centraal Museum - Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Nieuw Licht op de Gouden Eeuw; Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (cat. by Albert Blankert et al.), 1986-1987, p. 33, astutely likens the stylized effects of clothing in Baburen's pictures to crinkled aluminum foil. One intriguing Italian parallel to Baburen’s Procuress in terms of its vivacity and vulgarity is Andrea Caroselli’s Allegory of Love (formerly with Otto Naumann Ltd.), painted before he departed for Naples in 1617. This picture, a tondo on slate, portrays a buxom prostitute in animated negotiation with a violinist over her fee. The Dutch master was certainly familiar with Caroselli’s work; for example, the pose of Christ in Baburen’s San Pietro in Montorio Entombment echoes that of Christ in the Italian master’s Pietà in the Vittrice Chapel in what was then known as the Chiesa Nuova; see further Wayne Franits, "Dirck van Baburen and the ‘Self-Taught’ Master, Angelo Caroselli," Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 5 no. 2 (2013), posted electronically. For Caroselli, see Daniela Semprebene, Angelo Caroselli 1585-1652. Un pittore irriverente, Rome, 2011.
14. Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 151-54 cat. no. A30, plate 30.
15. Franits, op cit. (note 1), pp. 169-70 cat. no. BW1, plate 37, assigns the Utrecht Youth Playing a Mouth Harp to Baburen and his workshop. For the Merry Violinist, a hitherto unknown work recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art, see Jasper Hillegers, “Cat. no. 2, Dirck van Baburen,” in: Salomon Lillian Old Masters, ed. by N. Broad, Amsterdam 2018, pp. 10-21.
16. Admittedly, the head of Heraclitus is larger in proportion to the dimensions of the canvas versus that of Democritus; this potentially militates against the argument that the two pictures are pendants.
17. The following discussion is adopted from Slatkes and Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen 1588-1629, Amsterdam - Philadelphia 2007, pp. 136-137.
18. The term used in antique sources is “vita humana.” During the Renaissance, however, this concept is replaced with mundus, the world; see Albert Blankert, “Heraclitus en Democritus; in het bijzonder in de Nederlands kunst van de zeventiende eeuw,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 18 (1967), p. 78. This comprehensive article is essential for the history and development of the theme as well as its early sources.
19. Ibid., pp. 36-40, 85 no. 4.
20. Ibid., pp. 84-85 no. 5, fig. 2.
21. For the theme in the sixteenth century, see ibid., pp. 40-43.
22. Karel van Mander, The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters (1603-04), trans. by Derry Cook-Radmore et al., intro. and ed. by Hessel Miedema. 6 vols., Doornspijk 1994-1999, vol. 1, pp. 370, 373.
23. Wouter Th. Kloek, “The Caravaggisti and the Netherlandish Tradition,” in: Hendrick ter Brugghen und die Nachfolger Caravaggios in Holland, ed. by
Rüdiger Klessmann, Braunschweig 1988., pp. 53-54, figs. 54, 55.
24. See, respectively, Slatkes and Franits, op cit. (note 17), pp. 136-37 cat. no. A39, plate 38; pp. 137-40 cat. nos. 40, 41, plates 39, 40.
25. Slatkes and Franits, op cit. (note 17), p. 138.