Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice) Sofonisba accepting the poison unframed

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Lot 66
Sebastiano Ricci
(Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)
Sofonisba accepting the poison unframed

Sold for £ 50,000 (US$ 64,722) inc. premium
Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)
Sofonisba accepting the poison
oil on canvas
67.5 x 84.5cm (26 9/16 x 33 1/4in).
unframed

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    With Derek Johns, March 2001
    Sale, Sotheby's, New York, 27 January 2005, lot 194

    Literature
    L. Muti and D. de Sarno Prigano, A tu per tu con la pittura. Studi e ricerche di storia dell'arte, Faenza, 2002, pp. 263, 269 (under note 46), fig. 38
    A. Scarpa, Sebastiano Ricci, Milan, 2006, pp. 259-260, cat. no. 333, p. 604, ill., pl. 525

    The present work can be dated to circa 1710, shortly before Ricci set sail for England in the following year. Painted in Venice, with its theatrical setting and depiction of sumptuous historical costumes it is characteristic of those mythological, Biblical and history paintings on canvas that he produced at that time. Like Ricci's Continence of Scipio, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, it looks back to Veronese's comparable tale of military clemency, The Family of Darius before Alexander (in the National Gallery, London). As in the Continence of Scipio, in Sofonisba accepting the poison, the main protagonists similarly form a pyramidical group in the shallow foreground. The pose and appearance of Sofonisba also bear a striking resemblance to Scipio's young prisoner in the artist's earlier painting at Windsor.

    The story of Sofonisba, probably much embellished, is best known from a few late manuscripts by Livy. She was the daughter of the Carthaginian general, Hasdrubal Gisco Gisgonis, during the Second Punic War against Hannibal (218-201 BC). She was a great beauty, who had been betrothed to the eastern Numidian king Massinissa in 206 BC as part of an alliance with Syphax, king of the Masaesyli (or western Numidians). Although Massinissa subsequently fell in love with Sophonisba and married her, following his defeat and the capture of Syphax in 203 BC at the Battle of the Great Plains at Bagradas, the powerful Roman general, Scipio Africanus refused to agree to the marriage, insisting on the immediate surrender of the princess so that she could be taken to Rome and appear in the triumphal parade. Masinissa was persuaded to leave her, fearing the Romans more than he loved Sophonisba. He told her that he could not free her from captivity or shield her from Roman wrath, and so he asked her to die like a true Carthaginian princess. With great composure, Livy tells us that she drank the cup of poison that he offered her without hesitation.
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