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Seneca by Vincenzo Gemito (1852 –1929)
Ref : 104150
Period :
20th century
Artist :
Vincenzo Gemito (1852 –1929)
Provenance :
Medium :
Crayon on paper
Dimensions :
l. 9.84 inch X H. 11.81 inch
Desmet Galerie

Classical Sculpture

+32 (0)486 02 16 09
Seneca by Vincenzo Gemito (1852 –1929)

Vincenzo Gemito
1852 – Naples – 1929


Crayon on wove paper, 1918
Signed and dated on the left upper corner, V.GEMITO.1918.

30 x 25 cm

See Jean-Loup Champion, “Le retour à l’antique”, in Gemito, le sculpteur de l’âme Napolitane, Petit Palais, Musées des Beaux-Arts de la ville de Paris, Paris, 2019, pp. 162-167

In 1753, a Roman bronze bust, now known as the Pseudo-Seneca, was discovered at an excavation in Herculaneum, and it was kept at the Museo Nazionale in Naples, Italy. Since the 16th century, we had known several copies of this bust, but the original was only found in that year. It was identified as the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger because of its emaciated features1. Gemito stands in a long line of artists depicting the bust or its copies, among them Rubens, Von Sandrart and Breughel the Elder. Gemito’s drawing is exceptional in that it portrays a light figure against a dark background, in contrast to the majority of his drawings, and to the original bust, with its dark bronze. This dramatic depiction brings the philosopher to life.
Gemito must have first drawn this bust as a student of the Naples Academy of Fine Arts, where he enrolled at just 12 years old. Left at an orphanage as a baby, he grew up in the family of an artisan who recognised his artistic talent at a very young age. Although he worked at the ateliers of the sculptors Emmanuele Caggiano and Stanislao Lista, Gemito is thought to have been largely self-taught, which accounts for his distinctive and highly realistic style. His first exhibited a work at only 16, The Player, that caused a stir at the Promotrice in Naples and was bought by King Victor Emmanuel II. Gemito stayed in Paris in 1877-1880, befriending the painter and sculptor Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonir. Back in Naples in 1880, Gemito showed a great interest in antique sculpture. He measured his own work by their standard, and he made copies of classical statues such as Psyche and Narcissus. He modified and completed or bettered these copies. Gemito even used the Pseudo-Seneca bust, and the head of this father-in-law Masto Ciccio, as inspiration for his own work The Philosopher in 1883 (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte), “the ideal classical portrait” according to himself, giving it the same treatment of the hair, as a mass.2 Gemito even made a new version, more realist, in 1912. He was closed to the foundry owner Gennaro Chiurazzi’s, who had a huge success in reproducing in bronze the antique statues of the collections of the Museo Nazionale, for a growing local market of tourists and collectors. So maybe there were plans for a reproduction of the Pseudo-Seneca, who knows?

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