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Jacob Jordaens and Studio

“Diogenes searching for an Honest Man”

Oil on canvas
120 x 162 cm
circa 1650
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Diogenes, also known as Diogenes the Cynic, was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea coast of modern day Turkey, in 412 or 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC. Diogenes was a controversial figure.

After being exiled, he moved to Athens and criticized many cultural conventions of the city. He modelled himself on the example of Heracles, and believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his simple lifestyle and behaviour to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society.

Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He became notorious for his philosophical stunts, such as carrying a lamp during the day in full daylight, claiming to be looking for an honest man. This famous story is depicted here by Jordaens with Diogenes in the middle with the lamp and everyone around him is. When asked what he was doing, he would answer, “I am looking for a man.” (Modern sources often say that Diogenes was looking for an “honest man”. Diogenes looked for a human being but reputedly found nothing but rascals and scoundrels. In this depiction we see the crowd around him mock Diogenes for his strange ways, when in reality he was in a way mocking their vices.


Sale organised by Jordaens’ Heirs in The Hague, 22 March 1734, no.12, catalogued by Gerard Hoet;
Viscount Boyne, Burwarton House, Shropshire;
Sale Knight Frank and Rutley, July 1956, lot 249, (as by Jacob Jordaens, bought by Delbanco);
Private European collection since the 1950’s;
Private Collection, Switzerland, 2010;
with Douwes Fine Art, Amsterdam/London, 2011;
Private collection, The Netherlands.


– Leeuwarden, Fries Museum, ‘Van Jan Steen tot Jan Sluijters, De smaak van Douwes’, from 21-11-98 until 21-2-99, cat. ill. no.17;
– Sint-Niklaas, Belgium, Tentoonstellingszaal Zwijgershoek, ‘In het Spoor van Rubens’, Sept 2009 – January 2010, ill on p. 27 of the catalogue.


– Max Rooses, ‘Jordaens’ Leven en Werken’ Amsterdam-Antwerp 1906, p 104: “In de veiling van Jordaens’ nalatenschap, (‘s Gravenhage, 1734) bevond zich een kleiner exemplaar” (compared to the Dresden version) – “in den Catalogus der veilingen F. Bernard Standstead (Londen, 1783) en van Geetruyen en Beeckmans (Antwerpen, 1850) wordt een ‘Diogenes een mensch zoekende’ vermeld”;
– Compare: R.A. d’Hulst, Jordaens Drawings, 1924, p. 270, no. A182, as a studio work and ‘at Grange’s;
– See for the large version: Gemälde Galerie Alte Meister, Dresden, “Katalog der ausgestellten Werke”, Dresden 1987, no 110, with ill. (233 x 349 cm).
– Compare: Paris, Musée de Louvre, ‘Diogenes in search of a Man’, cat. no. C29, ill. 508, watercolour over black chalk, 41 x 57,2 cm.


Prof. R.A. d’Hulst, Dilbeek, 30th of July 1992, datable circa 1650-55;
Prof. Michael Jaffé, England, 4th of January 1994.

Prof. R.A. d’Hulst suggests that the present painting is a smaller version with extended architectural elements, of the fully autograph composition by Jordaens, circa 1640, in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (223 x 349 cm); in Jaffé’s opinion the elaborate architectural setting, absent in the earlier version of the subject at Dresden, indicates that the present work belongs to the latter half of Jordaens’ production, after circa 1650. D’Hulst further states that the present painting was probably identical to lot 12 in the Jacob Jordaens sale in 1734 (see G.Hoet, Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen met Derzelver Pryzen, 1752, p. 400, no. 12); the 1734 sale catalogue records the size of lot 12 as ‘3 voet 1 dium’ by ‘5 voet 1 dium’ which is approximately 104,7 x 134 9 cm. The discrepancy in size between that and the present canvas is probably due to the fact that dimensions in every major city were different at this time (i.e. 1 foot in Antwerp was not the same length as 1 foot in the Hague).

Professor Jaffé as well, confirms in his letter that the painting is the same as the one catalogued by Hoet in the 1734 Jordaens sale. He states: “The figure, upper left, leaning over the balustrade is a rapid rather brilliant touch, presumably introduced at a late stage. There are numerous pentimenti: in shifting the nearest cow’s head further to the right; in shifting the lantern and the silhouette of Diogenes’ forearm, by suppressing the landscape, which extended beyond the right hip, by the head of the third cow. The centurion’s horse, the donkey, the nearest cow and the swine (which relates to the drawing formerly in the Museum Fodor, Amsterdam), are choice passages of painting, according to Jaffé.

Stylistically, there are various similarities between two paintings by Jordaens: “Diogenes searching for an Honest Man” and “Christ Blessing the Children” in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. Apart from a similar size, the same canvas structure, the same use of colours and a similar painting technique there are many more characteristics.
In particular the similarity of the faces of the elder persons in both paintings is striking. The other figures do vary in facial expressions, but this is due to the nature of the subject. Another strong resemblance can be found in the gestures of the figures in both paintings: finely pointing hands and fingers in both cases.

Despite the different subject matter of these paintings, some similarities in the composition can be seen here as well: the figures are set against each-other and almost wrought together. The central figure in the “Diogenes” painting draws the left and the right part of the painting together. As far as the architectonical setting is concerned, we see that both paintings contain identical elements, such as arches and pillars.