- Inventory number
- Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
- Ca. 1638
- 179 cm x 94 cm
- On display
- 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. 123; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “cuarto del infante don Javier”, 1772, n. 930; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “pieza de vestir”, 1794, n. 929; Royal Palace, Madrid, “[1ª] pieza de vestir”, 1814-1818, n. 929)
A Greek philosopher born into slavery in Gandara around 270 B. C., he was part of the school of philosophy founded by Diogenes. These philosophers were called “cynics” because of their disdain for appearance and social distinctions. Velázquez's depiction of Menippus with a disheveled appearance formally recalls the artist's prototype of the Spanish beggars of his time.
The open book on the floor alludes to his disdain for mundane banalities, while the urn precariously perched on a board on two spheres may be a reference to the philosopher's ideas about the lightness of life.
Here, as in many of his works, Velázquez shows the contrast between the physical condition and the intellectual stature of his sitter. His loose, fluid technique emphasizes the value of the philosopher's face.
Along with Aesop (P01206) and Mars (P01208), this portrait was probably intended to decorate one of the rooms of the Torre de la Parada. After hanging in the Pardo Palace and the Royal Palace during the eighteenth century, it entered the Prado Museum in 1819.