Diogenes Asking Alexander to Get Out of His Light
Pierre Brebiette (French, c. 1598–1642)
IFF 204; Le Blanc 128 (IFF describes only a state with Augustin Quesnel's publication line, but this impression has the inscription "le Blond Avec privilege")
Sheet: 12.5 x 16.7 cm (4 15/16 x 6 9/16 in.)(trimmed on the platemark)
Medium or Technique
Etching and engraving
Not On View
Pierre Brebiette was a prolific and important graphic artist in early 17th-century France. His artistic formation is not well-known, but as a boy he may have had direct knowledge of the ongoing decoration of the palace of Fontainebleau. As a young man, he went to Italy where he remained for about seven years, returning in 1625. Brebiette’s prints are often difficult to date, but he inscribed this one as being made in Rome.
His exposure to Roman printmakers Antonio Tempesta, Orazio Borgianni, and Ottavio Leoni is reflected in his work. “Diogenes” may be compared rather directly in format and handling to Borgianni’s series of biblical images based on the Raphael’s designs for the Vatican Loggia.
Along with religious imagery and decorative friezes, classical subjects formed a mainstay of Brebiette’s work. Here he treats an episode in the life of the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who died at an advanced age in 323 BC. Known as “The Cynic,” Diogenes had contempt for social hierarchies and lived as a beggar. Brebiette shows him with bare feet, dressed in a simple robe, with an empty vat for shelter.
The incident depicted is said to have occurred in Corinth. One morning Diogenes was sunning himself when Alexander the Great happened upon his humble abode. Delighted to meet the renowned philosopher, the powerful ruler asked what he could do for him. Diogenes replied tartly, “Don’t cast a shadow on me.”–or “Get out of my light.” Rather than taking offense Alexander appreciated the wisdom and remarked that were he not Alexander, he would wish to be Diogenes.
Verso, lower right, stamped in brown ink, the mark of the MFA (Lugt 282)
James A. Bergquist, Newton, Massachusetts; from whom purchased March 26, 2008
James M. Rabb Acquisition Fund