Neoclassical painter - Commiato di Socrate dalla moglie Santippe
Active end Eighteenth century-early Nineteenth century
Commiato di Socrate dalla moglie Santippe / Farewell to Socrates by his wife Xanthippe, 1800-1810
oil on canvas, 113.5 x 149 cm
Gorizia, collection of art of the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Gorizia
“On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe [...] sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said those things as women will”. This passage, taken from chapter III of Plato’s Phaedo is the literary source for the work that illustrates the death of the Greek philosopher, privileging the representation of an intimate and private rather than the narration of the suicide widely disseminated by artists due to its dramatic emphasis . The story of the just man who accepts with serenity his sentencing and death lent itself as an extraordinary exemplum virtutis for the major Neoclassical painters, from Gambettino Cignaroli to Jacques-Louis David, enjoying a vast consensus and a lasting fortune that extended throughout the first decade of the Nineteenth century.
The painting is now in the collection of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Gorizia with the attribution to Franz Caugic, painter from Gorizia of solid Neoclassical training, who had finished his studies at the Fine Arts Academies of Vienna and Bologna, remembered as “a man of talent” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in his work Winckelmann and his Century. During his sojourn in Rome from 1781 to 1787, he participated in the lively intellectual climate of the city, coming into contact with the most famous artists of the era, among them Jacques-Louis David and Antonio Canova. In this context he matured a complete adhesion to Neoclassicism that earned him, upon his return to Vienna, a leading role in the city’s artistic panorama, in addition to prestigious positions from high profile international patrons.
The traditional attribution of the work to Caugic has been rejected by Maddalena Malni Pascoletti, who has recently conducted accurate investigations on the painting. Within the large corpus of more than two thousand drawings, conserved in Vienna, Ljubljana and Gorizia, in fact, there has not been found any preparatory study for this canvas, whose subject is not even in the lists of the works of artist, published several times in the course of the Nineteenth century. The scholar, furthermore, from a comparison with Socrates with a Disciple and Diotima, executed by the Gorizian painter for the Palace of Prince Auersperg in Vienna, has found substantial differences in the appearance of Socrates, “from a much more pronounced baldness and the profile more like a caricature”, which contribute to excluding the paternity of Caucig for the painting in question, conceivably attributable to an artist from Veneto active in the early decades of the nineteenth century for the softness of the chiaroscuro segments and the “warm sense of colour” (M. Malni Pascoletti, in Rivelazioni. 2011, pp. 250-252).
The work reveals a complete maturation of the Neoclassical language divulged through the Academies at the beginning of the century, which refer to both the accuracy in the representation of the literary source, and the philological insistence in the adoption of an ancient model to recreate the likenesses of the philosopher (the bust of Socrates conserved in the Museo Pio Clementino of Rome). The academic teachings correspond, in addition, to the calibrated construction of the composition, carefully studied in relationships of chiaroscuro: the ray of light that hits the woman with a skilful scenic effect, in fact, brings out the profile of severe beauty and the elegant colour palette of the garments, elevating her to the suffering protagonist of the event.