Egbert van Heemskerck, 'Heraclitus and Democritus'

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Period
Dated 1695
Material
Oil on copper
Signature
Signed EHK
Dimensions
15.2 x 18.8 cm

Egbert van Heemskerck (1634/35 - 1704), 1695

Heraclitus and Democritus were two philosophers studying mankind. The youthful Democritus laughed about life while the older Heraclitus could only cry about it. The depiction of these two philosophers has a long tradition. Laughing is part of youth while the older person takes life more seriously.

Egbert van Heemskerck was born in Haarlem. Unfortunately it is unknown where he was educated. He married in 1654 and according to written sources he left for Italy the following year. He stayed in Italy for six years and then he returned to the Netherlands. In 1670 he left for England, where he stayed until his death in 1704. His son, Egbert van Heemskerck the Younger, also became a painter in England.

The theme of the laughing and crying philosopher was popular in seventeenth century painting. Van Heemskerck wasn't the only artist portraying this theme: famous artists like Rubens, Van Bijlert and Van Baburen had already painted this subject earlier. The English publisher John Smith was inspired by Van Heemskerck's paintings. He published several engravings after his work at the end of the seventeenth century. Among those engravings is the one of Heraclitus and Democritus (see picture, engraving in the Collection of The National Portrait Gallery London) that has striking similarities to this painting.

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