C52: Maiolica dish: Alexander the Great meeting Diogenes
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© The Holburne Museum of Art, Bath
|Title||Maiolica dish: Alexander the Great meeting Diogenes|
|Object type||In category: Ceramics » Dish|
|Place of origin||Europe » Southern Europe » Italy » Central Italy » Marche » Urbino|
25.7 cm diameter
|Materials & techniques||
|Description||Round, shallow maiolica tazza. With painted scene depicting Alexander the Great meeting Diogenes in his barrel. Painted in green, brown, blue, black, white, yellow oxides.|
|Marks and inscriptions||
This tazza is probably from the workshop of Sforza di Marcantonio either in Urbino or Pesaro. The reverse is inscribed Il buono in contro da lisandro magnio [The Good Encounter of Alexander the Great] and dated 1545.
The dish depicts two of the most important personalities of the 4th century BC in Greece: Diogenes 'the Cynic' and Alexander the Great. Diogenes was born in Sinope (now part of Turkey) in 412 BC, he died in Corinth in 323 BC. After his exile from his native city, Diogenes moved to Athens where he became a pupil of Antisthenes, the founder of cynicism.
Cynicism took its name from the Greek word for dog and it was given to cynics due to their way of life and the fact that they 'bit' their friends to make them better. They believed that happiness can be found in natural life, and also that it can be achieved by wise austerity, ascesis/discipline, autarky, and self-knowledge. Diogenes and the cynics were critical of social and moral practices popular at the time, and they were particularly concerned with society’s corruption. Diogenes’ home was the street, living in a large tub. He used to walk around the city holding a lamp at any time of the day, 'looking for a human being'.
When Alexander the Great visited the Isthmus, having already heard about the famed philosopher and his way of life, he sent some of his people to ask Diogenes to visit him. When they found Diogenes and told him that the king was looking for him, he told them, 'I do not want to see him, if he wants to see me, then he should come'. Alexander responded by visiting Diogenes himself. It is this specific encounter that is painted on the tazza. Alexander the Great, shown on horseback, finds the philosopher sitting in his tub, enjoying the sun. Approaching, the King stated, ‘I am Alexander the Great king’ to which Diogenes replied, 'I am Diogenes the Cynic'. Surprised at this boldness, Alexander asked, 'aren’t you afraid of me?', Diogenes replied, ‘why what are you, a good thing or a bad?'. After asserting that he was a good thing, Alexander permitted the cynic to ask of him any favour. Diogenes responded by asking the King, high on horseback, to 'stay out of my light’. After this extraordinary exchange, Alexander commented that, ‘if I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes’.
Is it interesting to note that on this tazza, Alexander’s hair is not blond and his eyes are not blue, the characteristics artists usually accredited to him. Instead, his hair is white, suggesting either his wisdom or his experience. The image was almost certainly copied from a black and white print and it is possible the painter didn't know that Alexander was traditionally depicted blond and blue-eyed. In addition, the clothes of the emperor and his attendants are more Roman than Hellenistic,. They contrast with the philosopher’s naked state, which can be explained by his ascetic way of life. Diogenes is depicted looking calm and relaxed. He is also shown in a rural lanscape. In fact, he lived in the centre of Athens.
Plutarch, Lives, XIV 2
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Philosophers, VI 38.
|Muse theme||The Art of Collecting
The History of the Holburne Collection » The Collection » Ceramics
|Provenance||Sir Thomas William Holburne (1793-1874); by whom bequeathed to Mary Anne Barbara Holburne (1802-1882), by whom bequeathed to the Museum|