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The painting is a companion piece to Diogenes Throwing Away his Bowl, also by Rosa. Both pictures were painted between 1650 and 1651 and are counted among Rosa’s principal works.

The painting's motif

Democritus is shown deep in thought with a book in his lap among heaps of bones and the debris of human activity. Books, papers, a helmet, and artist’s brushes are buried in piles of bones and skulls.

The melodramatic pose is a reference to the Ancient writer’s descriptions of the stoic philosopher Democritus as a lonely scholar: The crumbling objects refer to his idea that everything is made up of atoms, the antique sarcophagi and sepulchral urns to Pliny’s tale that he frequently haunted burial places.

Other details refer to his studies of ethics, astronomy, physics, mathematics, literature, music, and medicine, but everything is transient like the smoke from the vessel behind him, and everything has an end, as symbolised by the fallen obelisks and the ivy covering the ruins.

A vanitas picture

Rosa painted a vanitas picture, i.e. a piece that addresses the futility of human endeavour and the inevitability of death. The Collection of Prints and Drawings owns a copy of Rosa’s own etching of the picture.

Details

  • Title: Democritus in Meditation
  • Creator: Salvator Rosa
  • Date Created: 1650-1651
  • Værktekst: Maleriet er en pendant til samme kunstners Diogenes, der bortkaster sin skål. Begge billeder er malet mellem 1650 og 51 og regnes for at være blandt Rosas hovedværker. Maleriets motiv Den stoiske filosof Demokrit sidder grublende med en bog i skødet midt i en ophobning af skeletdele og vragstumper af menneskelig virksomhed. Bøger, papirer, en hjelm og malerpensler er begravet i dynger af knogler og kranier. Den melodramatiske positur hentyder til de antikke litteraters fremstillinger af Demokrit som en ensom lærd; de hensmuldrende genstande til hans idéer om, at alt består af atomer; de antikke sarkofager og gravurner til Plinius’ beretning om, at han var en hyppig gæst på gravpladser. Andre detaljer henviser til hans studier i etik, astronomi, fysik, matematik, litteratur, musik og medicin, men alt er flygtigt som røgen fra karret bag ham, og alt har en ende, symboliseret ved de faldne obelisker og efeuen, der gror hen over ruinerne. Et vanitasbillede Rosa har malet et vanitasbillede, dvs. et billede, der fremhæver det meningsløse i menneskets stræben og dødens uundgåelighed. Et eksemplar af Rosas egenhændige radering af billedet befinder sig i Kobberstiksamlingen.
  • Teknik: Olie på lærred
  • Proveniens: Erhvervet 1936
  • Provenance: Acquired 1936
  • Physical Dimensions: w214 x h344 cm (Without frame)
  • Dansk link: http://www.smk.dk/index.php?id=1153
  • Dansk Titel: Demokrit, hensunken i betragtninger
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Statens Museum for Kunst, http://www.smk.dk/en/copyright/creative-commons/
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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