The unshod tub-dweller in shadow wears the mantle of subject in Waterhouse's painting and earns the inquisitive attention of some fancy-free young ladies. The painting is accurate if not particularly sympathetic; the wall of the stair separates him from the carefree fancies of the women and from the temple and bustle of the marketplace, poising him against the society he so despised: "Humans have complicated every simple gift of the gods". The young ladies with their fine robes, basket of picked flowers, and fashionable though absurdly anachronistic parasols are fine examples of this; the temple stands as a monument to human progress, separated by composition as well as space from the philosopher. All this stands fairly along the lines of Diogenes's own practive of cynicism.

Although the bright colors of the girls' togas provide a marked and already favored contrast to Diogene's garb, the light provides the primary commentary on the scene. At most the girls' faces are in shadow, but darkness covers all of Diogenes's upper half, reaching its darkest at his very seat. His lantern, presumably dimmed after a hard day of searching for an honest man, stands more useless than usual on the edge of a curious lip; this might be taken as a gesture of appreciation, though it's at best half-hearted. With Diogenes in darkness, Waterhouse marks him as confused if not a fool.

Questions

How does Waterhouse's choice of subject — a historical if nearly mythic philosopher — compare to that in his other paintings and those of other painters of classical subjects?

How does this vertical composition compare to Burne-Jones's use of the same in paintings such as King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid?

Is the light realistically portrayed?

How does Waterhouse's use of stairs in the composition here differ from that in Mariamne?


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Last modified 9 April 2008