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Democritus Heraclitus

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Democritus Heraclitus
  • Description

    Democritus laughing and Heraclitus weeping in front of a globe. 1650s

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1650-1660
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 240 millimetres
    • Width: 323 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Lettered with title along top, with 'RH Invent. P.Stent excudit. R Gaywood fecit'. Along bottom two lines of verse: 'I laugh at this madd world, But I do weepe/ That brainsick mortals such a coyle shuld keepe'
  • Curator's comments

    (Text from Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain', BM 1998, cat.108)
    Gaywood copied indiscrimately from French, Dutch and Italian sources. This is an example of his copying that is rather more creative than usual. He gives due credit to Rembrandt for the invention ('RH invent'), and the two figures originally appeared in two of his paintings: the laughing Democritus is based on a laughing man with a gorget (Mauritshuis), while the weeping Heraclitus is taken from the repentant Judas in a painting of 1629 (in an English private collection). Rembrandt's pupil Jan van Vliet made etchings of both heads in c.1634 as part of a set of six 'tronies' (studies of heads of interesting characters: see 'Rembrandt & Van Vliet: a collaboration on copper' by C.Schuckman, M.Royalton-Kisch and E.Hinterding, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam 1996, pp.51-56). It was these that Gaywood combined and turned into a pair that he identified as Democritus and Heraclitus.
    The classical philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus were linked even in antiquity as offering opposite reactions to their shared perception of the absurdity of humanity: Democritus laughed, while Heraclitus wept. This theme became immensely popular in seventeenth-century art and literature (see A.Blankert in 'Nederland Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek', XVIII 1967, pp.31-124). Robert Burton called himself Democritus junior on the titlepage of his Anatomy of Melancholy of 1621.
    In a later state of this plate published by Overton, Gaywood's name was taken out and Hollar's substituted (Pennington 258A) - an early example of the tendency of Hollar's posthumous vogue to accrete unrelated prints into his oeuvre. Vliet's figure of Heraclitus was lifted in 1658 a second time by the engraver Robert Vaughan for use (again as Heraclitus) at the bottom of the titlepage of a book by Richard Barthwait, 'The honest ghost or a voice from the vault' (Hind III 70.71).
    Other English prints of this subject are recorded. On 5 April 1656 Thomas Warren entered in the Stationers Register 'Democritus and Heraclitus with a globe betwix them' as one of seven sheets of 'portratures cutt in wood'. A mezzotint titled 'Hiraclitus et Democritus' after a painting by Egbert van Heemskerk was published by John Smith towards the end of the century (BM 1876-11-11-69), and another version, signed T.B., is to be found in the Bagford collection (Harley 5949, f.23).


  • Bibliography

    • Globe 1985 423 bibliographic details
    • Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings 1982-2005 I.B.6 (graphic reproduction undescribed) bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British XVIIc Mounted Roy)

  • Exhibition history

    2000 Jan-Mar, Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000 May-Jul, Bristol, City Mus and AG, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000 Oct-Dec, Lancaster, Peter Scott Gallery, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2000/1 Dec-Feb, Banff, Duff House, Printmaking in Stuart Britain
    2001 Feb-May, Cardiff, National Mus, Printmaking in Stuart Britain

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Democritus laughing and Heraclitus weeping in front of a globe.  1650s  Etching

Democritus laughing and Heraclitus weeping in front of a globe. 1650s Etching

Image description



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Object reference number: PPA96444

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