These striking representations of the Greek philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus follow in the tradition of Giordano's well-known Philsopher series from the 1650s. Both these and his earlier compositions are indebted to the work of Jusepe de Ribera, with whom he Giordano is thought to have trained (though there is no documentary evidence proving this was actually the case). Giordano's philosophers from the 1650s are strongly reminiscent of Ribera's single-figure compositions of half-length saints and philosophers of the 1620s and '30s; many of which would have been accessible to Giordano in a number of important Neapolitan collections at the time, as noted by the biographer Bernardo De Dominici.1
Indeed confusion between the two artists' works led to many paintings by Giordano of this type being erroneously ascribed to the Spanish painter instead.2
Giordano's philosophers are normally shown half-length, in sharp contrast of light and shadow, against a dark background, accompanied by a number of attributes (such as books, scrolls, compasses or a mirror). Their identification is often unclear, though the artist is known to have had recourse to antique sculptures to represent Socrates, Seneca and Cato amongst others. Many of the philosophers are generically represented, however, and the figures are shown as beggars ('filosofi-mendicanti') or scientists ('filosofi-scienzati'); that is alchemists, mathematicians, geographers or astrologers. Few documented patrons of these paintings are known but one can assume that these 'philosophers' were commissioned by intellectuals who intended to hang them in their studies or libraries. The paintings allowed Giordano to represent different figure types and facial expressions, and though they were generally not portraits of real people Giordano is known to have represented both himself and his father as philosophers (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich).3
Both works are framed by painted cartouches and flower garlands. According to Nicola Spinosa, the latter were executed by Giuseppe Recco (Naples 1634 - 1695 Alicante) with whom Giordano often collaborated from 1666, when the two are first recorded as colleagues. Recco was the most accomplished member of a family of still-life specialists. His influences derive largely from the Spanish realist tradition of Bodegón painting, though it is possible that he may have visited Lombardy and been exposed to the work of Evaristo Baschenis.
1. Ribera's paintings could be found in Giordano's time in collections such as those of the Duca della Torre, Duca di Maddaloni, Principe di Avellino, and the third Duca di Alcalà, viceroy of Naples and Palermo.
2. Such as, for example, the two philosophers Heraclitus and Democritus in the Pinacoteca Civica Tosio Martinengo, Brescia; see Ferrari & Scavizzi, op. cit., vol. I, p. 254, cat. nos. A22.a and A22.b, both reproduced vol. II, figs. 85 and 86.
3. 4. Inv. nos. 492 and 493; Ferrari & Scavizzi, ibid., vol. I, p. 255, cat. nos. A29.a and A.29.b, both reproduced vol. II, figs. 95 and 96.