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Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
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Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y

Sevilla (Spain), 1599 - Madrid (Spain), 1660

Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y See author's file


Ca. 1638. Oil on canvas.
Room 015

Aesop and Menippus are first listed in the inventory of the Torre de la Parada between 1701 and 1703. Among other works, this hunting lodge had a vast cycle of mythological paintings made by Rubens and his assistants, as well as some of Velázquez’s portraits of buffoons and member of the royal family dressed as hunters. The inventory also lists Rubens’s Democritus and Heraclitus, which is practically the same height as Velázquez’s paintings, although somewhat narrower. They were probably interrelated and would have been painted during the same period, around 1638. A comparison of Rubens’ philosophers with those of Velázquez is very interesting for what it reveals about the latter’s personality. The northern painter’s figures are dressed in clothing of their own era, barefooted, and seated before a rocky landscape of the sort common in depictions of hermits and penitents. One laughs while the other sobs. Their physiques are completely rubenesque, that is, robust and well-muscled, and their expressions reflect solidly established codes. Velázquez, however, places his philosophers indoors, with clothing and footwear that could have been worn by any beggar in a Spanish city of his time, and his approach to their faces is equally indicative of a desire for realism. They are situated in a space like many of his portraits and, while there are numerous objects that would allow a symbolic reading, the painter plays with the limits between portraiture and fiction.

As with many other works by Velázquez, there have been innumerable efforts to identify the meaning of this painting in the context of the Torre de la Parada. Some seem obvious, such as the relation between Aesop and the abundant animal fables in the building. Both Aesop and Menippus were known to cultured Spaniards, and the association of philosophy with poverty had become a figurative cliché in the European baroque as a result of the success of stoic thought at that time. Aesop carries a book (probably his Fables) and is surrounded by objects alluding to various circumstances of his life. His poor clothing refers to his origins as a slave and his humble life. The pail of water would be an allusion to the very ingenious answer he gave his owner, the philosopher Xantus, who consequently freed him. The equipment at his right probably refers to his violent death in Delphos, when his criticism of that city’s inflated reputation led its inhabitants to hide a goblet in his luggage. They then accused him of theft and threw him off a cliff. Like Rubens, Velázquez proposed his pair of philosophers as a contrast between laughter and tears, but he may also have sought another type of contrast: his choice of body postures indicates the degree to which he planned this work in terms of (or in response to) the Flemish canvases. Aesop, who exemplifies the free-spirited thinker, is equally free of material ties. Standing before us, helooks straight forward in an open manner. Menippus, however, appears in profile, protected by his cape, and looking at us almost from the corner of his eye. It is as if the painter were using his posture to transmit a sense of the avarice popularly associated with him. Aesop’s openness and freedom are equivalent to Democritus’s laughter, while Menippus’s diffidence and stinginess correspond to the tears and withdrawn nature of Heraclitus.

Fábulas de Velázquez. Mitología e Historia Sagrada en el Siglo de Oro / edición a cargo de Javier Portús Pérez, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, p.327


Technical data

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Inventory number
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
Ca. 1638
Height: 179 cm; Width: 94 cm
Torre de la Parada. Filósofos
Royal Collection (Torre de la Parada, El Pardo-Madrid, 1703-1711; Torre de la Parada, 1714; Royal Palace of El Pardo, Madrid, “pieza duodécima”, 1747, n. 122; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “paso de tribuna y trascuartos”, 1772, n. 929; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “pieza de vestir”, 1794, n. 929; Royal Palace, Madrid, “[1ª] pieza de vestir”, 1814-1818, n. 929).

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Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1100.
1100.-Esopo. / Alto 1,79. Ancho 0,94.-Lienzo. / Plantado en pié en medio de una pieza desmantelada, de frente, y escorzando un tanto el lado derecho, está el famoso fabulista frigio representado en figura de un viejo sopista hambron y descamisado, envuelto en un sayo pardo descolorido y mal ceñido con un harapo de lienzo, con un rancio pergamino arrimado con la mano derecha á la cadera, y la mano izquierda, un cubeto de madera con un trapo negro al borde, y á la izquierda una especie de hatillo de ropa, que por otra parte parece un aparejo de bestia de carga.-Figura de cuerpo entero...

Inv. Felipe V, El Pardo, 1747. Núm. 122.
Pieza Duodezima [...] La dha pieza numero 12 consta de ocho Pinturas que se nominaràn despues y pertenecen todas â las quarenta y dos, que se trageron a este Palacio del de la Torre de la Parada. / 122 / Dos Pinturas de ygual alto [Vara y tres quartas] y mas ancho [una vara] que el antecedente; la una una Essopo de cuerpo entero con un Libro debajo el brazo ... 3000

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 254.
Velazquez. / 254. retrato de cuerpo entero de un viejo descamisado (vulgarmente denominado Esopo). / Vestido con un saco pardo atado con un lienzo a la cintura, con la mano izquierda escondida en el pecho, y en la derecha un tomo en folio en pergamino apoyado al costado. En el suelo un cubeto de madera roto y varios trastos. (C.N.) / Alto 6 pies, 5 pulg; ancho 3 pies, 4 pulg, 6 lin.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 929.
Paso de Tribuna y Trascuartos [...] {12825} 929 / Pardo = Otro de vn folósofo de cuerpo entero que dice ser Isopo de dos varas de alto y tres quartas de ancho original de Velazquez

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 929.
[1ª] Pieza de vestir [...] {21193-21194} 929 / Esopo y Menipo = Velazquez

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 929.
Pieza de Bestir [...] {56} 929 / Dos quadros de dos varas y media de alto y vara y quarta de ancho, el uno Esopo, y el otro Menipo à seis mil reales cada uno, Yd [Velázquez] ... 12.000

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in black. Front, upper right corner

Inscribed in gray. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

Velázquez and the Golden Age
16.11.2018 - 03.03.2019

Intercambio: Masterpieces of the World at the Hermitage
San Petersburgo
20.10.2008 - 18.01.2009

Velázquez’s Fables. Mythology and Sacred History in the Golden Age
20.11.2007 - 24.02.2008

18.10.2006 - 21.01.2007

Velázquez. Bufones y filósofos
16.11.2005 - 20.02.2006

The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso
20.10.2004 - 06.02.2005

Intercambio Manet: Esopo en el Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago IL
30.06.2003 - 25.09.2003

Manet-Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting
Nueva York NY
25.02.2003 - 25.05.2003

Nueva York NY
28.09.1989 - 07.01.1990

Cinco Siglos de Arte Español
05.10.1987 - 05.01.1988

Location +

Room 015 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 01-03-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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