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Democritus in Meditation

Accession Number
1959/1.126

Title
Democritus in Meditation

Artist(s)
Salvator Rosa

Object Creation Date
1615-1673

Medium & Support
etching with drypoint on laid paper

Dimensions
18 5/16 x 10 15/16 in. (46.5 x 27.7 cm);28 1/8 x 22 1/8 in. (71.28 x 56.04 cm);18 5/16 x 10 15/16 in. (46.5 x 27.7 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Jean Paul Slusser

Label copy
Gallery Rotation Fall 2010
Salvator Rosa
Italy, 1615–1673
Democritus in Meditation
1661–62
Etching with drypoint on paper
Gift of Jean Paul Slusser, 1959/1.126
The philosopher Democritus sits dejectedly amid funereal surroundings, brooding upon the fleeting nature of human life and achievement. Although famed for laughing at even serious matters in order to show their insignificance, he falls silent here, overwhelmed by the signs of death and impermanence around him. This moral of human vanity, however, seems at odds with the artist’s motivations for making this print and Alexander Visiting Diogenes, also displayed here. Both etchings reproduce important earlier paintings by Rosa with the aim of publicizing his work and artistic philosophy for a wider audience. This tension between self-promotion and worldly renunciation reveals the complexities of Rosa’s character, torn between ambition and a stoical view on life, and may suggest why his Democritus finds nothing humorous in contemplating his own transience.

Subject matter
The philosopher Democritus sits dejectedly amid funereal surroundings, brooding upon the fleeting nature of human life and achievement. Although famed for laughing at even serious matters in order to how their insignificance, he falls silent here, overwhelmed by the accumulated signs of death and impermanence.

Physical Description
A bearded man sits in a cemetery upon a stone block and leans on a sarcophagus with his head in his hand. A book sits in his lap. Sarcophagi, obelisks, and funerary urns surround him. The bones and body parts of humans and animals along with a discarded helmet and books are strewn across the foreground.

Primary Object Classification
Print

Collection Area
Western

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
cemeteries
deaths
etching (printing process)
philosophers
skeletons (animal components)
skulls (skeleton components)

3 Related Resources

Death and Dying
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Landscape and Nature, Comparative and Historical
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved

On display