G. Assereto - Socrate beve la cicuta
(Genoa 1600 - 1649)
Socrate beve la cicuta / Socrates drinks the hemlock, 1640-1649
oil on canvas, 106 x 129 cm
Forlì, Art Collection of the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì
At the beginning of the Seventeenth century there was in Genoa the rapid spread of the neostoicism advocated in Flanders by Giusto Lipsio (1547-1606), author of philosophical studies on the relationship between politics and morality, conducted in the light of the rediscovery of the texts of Tacitus and Seneca. This predilection for Lipsio, that responds, without doubt to a canon of overall renewal of the city’s aristocracy, assumed an important role also in the art world, to which the presence of Peter Paul Rubens contributed, who boasted a direct frequentation of the philosopher, mentor of his brother Philippe, also evidenced by group portrait Lezione del filosofo Giusto Lipsio in Anversa / Lesson of the Philosopher Giusto Lipsio in Antwerp (1611 circa) conserved in the Gallery of Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Within this cultural ferment one finds the work by Gioacchino Assereto, that since his youth had grappled with subjects drawn from philosophy and ancient history, including Servio Tullio bambino con i capelli in fiamme / The Infant Servius Tullius with his Hair in Flames (Art Collection of Banca Carige), Focione rifiuta i doni di Alessandro / Phocion Refuses Alexander’s Gifts (Nantes, Musée des Beaux Arts) and La morte di Catone / The Death of Cato (Genova, Palazzo Bianco). An interest that probably enjoyed renewed momentum following the journey of the painter to Rome in 1639 when, conceivably, he was able to come into contact with the Marquis Vincenzo Giustinani, great collector of Caravaggio and passionate connoisseur of the ancient world, who at the time was preparing the “Room of the Philosophers” with a series of paintings admittedly inspired by the neostoic precepts, such as La morte di Seneca / The Death of Seneca by Joachim von Sandrart, La morte di Socrate / The Death of Socrates by the mysterious “Flemish Giusto” and La morte di Cicerone / The Death of Cicero by François Perrier.
Devoid of any narrative element, the painting is built on an intense dialogue, of extraordinary expressive power, of gestures and glances between the philosopher and his tormentor “that intersect in opposed diagonals to show the different temperament of the characters and their opposite moral stature” (G. Viroli, in La tradizione rinnovata 2006, pp. 274-275); both figures belong to an authentic humanity that corresponds to the complete acceptance of the artist of naturalistic tendencies, certainly matured on the models of international scope, the contact with which was facilitated by the role of Genoa, at the time economic and cultural crossroads of Europe. In the essay that appeared in “Dedalo” in 1926, from which the critical recovery of the painter had its beginning, Roberto Longhi was the first to institute a stringent stylistic comparison between Diego Velásquez and the “Great Assereto,” (R. Longhi, L’Assereto,” in “Dedalo”, VII, 1926, pp. 355-377). Within this artistic culture is also inscribed in the open book on the knees of the philosopher, an intense example of still life and, at the same time, a reflection on the emptiness of human knowledge, certainly attributable to the maturity of the painter. This object in a very prominent position introduces the viewer within the scene, suspended at the moment of maximum dramatic intensity and revealed by the light that illuminates the colours and instils life to the flesh tones.