Menippus by Velazquez
“Look—tramps!” people exclaim when they see this painting and the one of Aesop beside it in the Prado Museum. Velazquez liked to paint the poor. He must have found this fellow in a backstreet somewhere. Who was Menippus? A third-century Greek slave who wrote snide poems about the world.
Velazquez’s Menippus isn’t supposed to look very trustworthy. “Rogues and swindlers like this man were a plague on the nation,” writes Gaya Nuño, a Velazquez biographer. “The number of locksmiths, carpenters, or surgeons had not increased in the twenty years since Velazquez had come to Madrid [in 1623], but types like this had multiplied…. This old pícaro wrapped in his big cape…. his eyes sparkling with wine…is the updated version of the old water-carrier Velazquez painted in Seville when he was a boy. That water-carrier earned his living by honest work whereas this Menippus is just an old rascal.”