Typically, Rosso Fiorentino enlivened this single figure with spirited hand gestures and complex patterns of elaborate drapery folds. He identified Empedocles by including the crescent moon with rays of light and a hand pointing upward to the sun. The figure's grave expression and walking stance refer to his serious concerns and his travels.
A Greek philosopher, poet, orator, religious teacher, naturalist, and founder of the Italian school of medicine, Empedocles was active around 444 B.C. in Sicily. Although born wealthy, he zealously supported the poor and participated in a revolution against tyrannical leadership but refused an invitation to become king.
French engraver René Boyvin used this drawing as the basis for his print of Empedocles. The outlines show that Boyvin traced it with a stylus for transfer; the resulting printed image is a reverse of the drawing. Another artist copied Boyvin's print for an engraving of Saint Roch in 1563. Empedocles' reputation for curative powers in his own time, even for averting epidemics, may have suggested an analogy with Saint Roch, the Christian saint of protection against the plague.