V. Gemito - Il Filosofo
Napoli, 1852 - 1929
Il Filosofo / Philosopher, 1917
watercolour and tempera on paper mounted on Bristol board, cm. 40 x 48
dated and signed bottom left: “1917 V. GEMITO.”
Milano, Collezione d’arte della Fondazione Cariplo
It was on 12 May 1954 that the heirs of Vincenzo Gemito proposed to sell some of the works in their collection, then on loan to the Castello Sforza in Milan, to Antonio Mazzotta, the member of the Cariplo board responsible for purchases to expand its art collection, through the architect Ferdinando Reggiori, consultant to the bank.
The work in tempera, dated 1917, had hung in the sculptor’s studio for a long time, as attested by a photograph dated 11 May 1926, in which it can be seen behind Gemito as he works on a terracotta portrait of the young playwright Raffaele Viviani (1926, Naples, Museo di San Martino). Published as Philosopher (Masto Ciccio) in 1944, the work was later indicated by Anita Gemito (letter to the Cariplo, Milan, 8 June 1954) as Saint Paul. The painting was exhibited at the Palazzo Reale, Naples, in 1953 during the celebrations for the first centenary of the sculptor’s birth (which commenced the previous year).
In 1863, after the death of her husband, Giuseppina Baratta, Vincenzo Gemito’s foster mother, married a construction worker named Francesco Jadiciccio and affectionately known as Masto Ciccio. Jadiciccio worked as the artist’s assistant in the foundry and soon became his favourite model, repeatedly portrayed in numerous drawings and studies for sculptures from the 1860s until his death around 1918. The highly naturalistic drawings of the early years gave way to life studies that were sometimes developed, as in this case, into allegorical or religious interpretations of the subject, transformed as required into a prophet, a philosopher or a Biblical patriarch.
The Cariplo version shows Masto Ciccio in profile with his gaunt face, broad, furrowed brow, long hair and flowing beard now white with age. The same physiognomic features reappear in the self-portraits of Gemito during the last fifteen years of his life, thus attesting to the lasting iconographic success of his portrayal of historical and religious subjects. The close similarities with Prophet (Masto Ciccio) (Intesa San Paolo Collection, formerly in the collection of Gabriele Consolazio), slightly smaller but again dated 1917, seem to suggest that the two works in tempera were pendants. With minimal variations, both works share the same layout, the same pose in profile, and above all the same meticulous rendering of anatomy and extreme precision in the realistic portrayal of the details of the face and the veins and tendons of the hands, here clasped together on the back of a book.
In these mature works, which also include Masto Ciccio as a Prophet (1914, private collection), Gemito attains complete technical mastery of tempera and watercolour, freely mixed with touches of white lead and quick strokes in pencil and charcoal. In the first and second decades of the 20th century, after recovering from the mental illness that struck him in 1887, the sculptor specialised in drawings that proved so successful both commercially and with critics that he referred to himself in a letter of 1916 to his daughter Giuseppina as the leading draughtsman of the era.