Month of Art: Day 17 Heraclitus 1630

800px-Utrecht_Moreelse_Heraclite(Heraclitus 1630, Johannes Moreelse)

The Baroque Dutch painter Johannes Paulus Moreelse, born 1603, painted after styles from the school of Utrecht Caravaggism. Being a small part of the Dutch Golden Age, his style was obviously influenced by Caravaggio both in its execution and its subject matter. His father, Paulus Moreelse, was also a painter and taught Johannes until his death. Johannes Moreelse was later inducted into the papal knight order until his death in 1634. Little else is known about him

Heraclitus is an interesting figure in Greek history and philosophy. Born presumably 535 BCE, according to Diogenes Laërtius, to an aristocratic family in Ephesus, Anatolia (or modern day Efes, Turkey) he is best known as “the obscure” or “the weeping philosopher”. He is most often depicted by artists and writers next to the “laughing philosopher “Democritus.

1 Johannes_Moreelse_01(Heraclitus and Democritus, 1630?, Moreelse)

Many artists, true to know Greek history, often depicted him weeping over a globe representing the human condition. His most famous sayings include “everything flows”, “the way up and the way down”, “strife is justice”,  “follow the common”, “character is fate” and logos, or “The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos”.

Now, to the painting. I saw it by chance as I skimmed through several articles in order to remember the three perspectives in an argument (pathos, logos and ethos). It was a fleeting glance, but Moreelse’s Heraclitus intrigued me in that split second I looked at his face. That moment I thought, “Why is he crying?”. 

Looking at it now I get mixed feelings. I would never want to become a philosopher. (Too much time spent contemplating the meaning of the universe in thought but never truly coming to the truth.) I think it is because there is always a slight disconnection from God. Man will never understand the universe, human beings or God using his own  understanding. It is kind of like studying a single person who does not speaks for a long time and  concluding they are mute. Could it be true? Yes, but what if it is not? There is always that doubt, that little voice in our head that says “Are you sure?”.

This painting reminds me of this feeling. In one moment it seems like Heraclitus is praying. The next, it is hard to be sure. In fact, it is almost guaranteed he is not. In my mind, he is a man overwhelmed by the horrors of life, trapped in his mind and unable to find a solution to the problems he sees with his limited understanding.

The artwork also seems to scream, “I do not know what to do or where to turn.” His writings always were hard to understand, perhaps a little too hard, yet there was always this urging through his words to reach the truth. He never came across as stuck up or prideful about his ideas, just sad.

I like this work of art because it makes me think and it connects me to the ancient philosophers who tried so hard to understand the world. Truth can be found in the most obscure of places. We cannot limit ourselves and bar our education from religions, thinkers or “races” we do not understand or believe we have no connection with. This painting is a testament to man’s limitations but also a gateway back to an ancient world where understanding came at great expense. Just food for thought. . .


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